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Author of "CIVILIZATION, 1914-1917," etc. 





Copyright, 1919, by 

Published, September, 1919 

2. G07 

35 8 




I am beginning a book with what sounds like a 
very ambitious title. 

I wish to say at once that I have no qualifications 
to discuss political, historical or economic matters. 
I leave to the scholars who are versed in these re- 
doubtable questions the task of explaining, skilfully 
and definitely, the great misery that has befallen our 

I thus at the same time renounce most of the op- 
portunities and obligations of my title. 

But I wish, with all my heart, to pursue with a 
few people of good will a friendly discussion the ob- 
ject of which remains, in spite of all, the heart's do- 
main, or the possession of the world. 

The possession of the world is not decided by guns. 
It is the noble work of peace. It is not involved in 
the struggle which is now rending society. 

Even so, men will find themselves engaged in an 
undertaking that will threaten to overwhelm them 
with suffering and despair. 

* Fate has assigned to me during the war a place 
and a task of such a character that misery has been 

the only thing I have seen ; it has been my study 



and my enemy every moment. I must be forgiven 
for thinking of it with a persistence that is like an 

The whole intelligence of the world is absorbed by 
the enterprise and the necessities of the war ; there 
is little chance of rousing it now from this in favor 
of the happiness of the race, in favor of that happi- 
ness which is compromised for the future and de- 
stroyed for the present. It is to the heart one must 
address oneself. It is to all the generous hearts 
that one must make one's appeal. 

So, if I am spurred by an ambition, it is to beg 
the world to seek once more whatever can lighten the 
present and the future distress of mankind, to seek 
the springs of interest that exist for the soul in a 
life harassed with difficulties, perils and disillusion- 
ments, to honor more than ever the faithful and in- 
corruptible resources of the inner life. 

The inner life! 

It has never ceased to shine, a precious, quiver- 
ing flame, devoting all its ardor in a struggle against 
the breath of these great events, resisting this 
tempest which has had no parallel. 

It has never ceased to shine, but its shy and faith- 
ful light trembles in a sort of crypt into which we 
fear to venture. 

What has happened has seized upon us as upon 


its prey. During the first months of the war, dur- 
ing the first years perhaps, all our physical and 
moral energies were overwhelmed in this maelstrom. 
How, indeed, could one refuse oneself to the appetite 
of the monster? We did not even try to snatch 
from him our hours of leisure, our dreams. We 
simply abandoned such things, as we abandoned our 
plans, our welfare, and the whole of our existence. 

You remember ! It was a time when solitude 
found us more shaken, more disarmed, than peril. 
We reproached ourselves for distracting a single one 
of our thoughts from the universal distress. We 
gave ourselves day and night to this agonizing 
world ; and when our work was suspended, when the 
wild beast unloosed its clutch, as if in play, and 
we returned for a few minutes to ourselves, we did 
not always dare to look the quivering inner flame 
in the face. What it lighted up in us seemed at 
times too foreign to our anxiety, or too filled with 
limpid serenity. And so we returned to our wretch- 
edness, experiencing it to the point of intoxication, 
to the point of despair. 

When I think of the year 1915, it seems to me 
that I still hear all those noble comrades saying to 
me with a sort of dejection: " I can't think of any- 
thing else! I can neither read, nor work, nor seek 
to distract myself to any purpose. When I 'm off 
duty I think about these days, I think about them 


unceasingly, till I feel seasick, till I feel dizzy. I 've 
just had two hours of liberty. Once upon a time I 
should have given them to Pascal or to Tolstoy. 
Today I have employed them in reading some docu- 
mentary works on the manufacture of torpedoes and 
on European colonial methods. They are subjects 
that will always be outside my line, subjects I shall 
never be interested in. But how can I think of any- 
thing else? " 

Perhaps it is not a question of thinking of any- 
thing else. It is not a question of turning one's 
back on the time, but rather of looking it in the face, 
calmly and collectedly. 

When the first great excitement had passed away, 
those who had the wisdom and the courage to return 
assiduously to themselves found their inner life en- 
nobled, augmented, enriched. For it does not cease 
to labor on in the depths of us. It is at once our- 
selves and something other than ourselves, better 
than ourselves. Like certain of our organs which 
are endowed with a marvelous independence and pur- 
sue a vigilant activity in the midst of our agitations 
and our sleep, the inner life comes to its fruitage 
even though we are full of ingratitude and indiffer- 
ence towards it. It is the faithful spouse who keeps 
the home radiant, arranges every comfort and spins 
at the wheel, behind the door, awaiting our return. 

And behold we are returning! 


To be sure, the storm still roars on. It grows 
greater, more furious, more unending. Never has it 
seemed more complex, more grave, more difficult. 
Peril has taken up its abode with us. Every sort of 
opinion holds up its head and vehemently solicits 
our belief. 

But we have found once more the key and the path 
to the secret refuge. Nothing could turn us aside 
now. Nothing could prevent us at certain hours 
from plunging into solitude, there to find again the 
equilibrium, the harmony and those moral riches 
which we know, after the ruin of so many things, 
are alone efficacious, alone durable. 

For long months now I have realized, watching 
the men with whom I live, that they are waiting for 
words of quietude, words of rest and love. They 
are like parched soil at the end of a blazing summer : 
they long to slake their thirst and grow green 

In vain have destruction, disorder and death tried 
to break up the sublime and familiar colloquy that 
every being pursues with the better part of himself. 
That colloquy revives, it begins again, in the very 
midst of the battle, among the odors and the groans 
of the hospital. 

Nevertheless, the daily work is done, well done ; 
duty is properly weighed and accomplished; the soul 
simply is unwilling any longer to renounce its modi- 


tation upon all that is profound, imperishable, and 
immaterial in the present. 

Tell me that we are going to labor in concert once 
more at the exploitation of our inner fortune. Tell 
me that we are going to labor to save from shipwreck 
that part of us which, in spite of all our errors, un- 
certainties, crimes and disillusionments, remains 
truly noble and worthy of eternity. 

I am able to undertake this e^say thanks to the 
leisure moments the war has been willing to grant 
me. It is not purely the fruit of solitary medita- 
tions. I do not live alone: my chosen comrades sur- 
round me; they share with me the confused space 
of our dwelling; we share together all the thoughts 
that fill this space. 

Friendship has accomplished the miracle of trans- 
forming into a communion what, without it, would 
have remained a promiscuity. 

I have a feeling that I am expressing the desires 
and the thoughts of many men. Very soon, those 
who are here will be going to sleep ; I shall continue 
my writing, but with the secret certitude of not be- 
ing alone in the task, of carrying with me their tacit 
assent. I feel that I have been entrusted with a 
sort of mandate. 

I have no library, no documents. But do we need 
books in order to converse together of the things 


that form the very substance of our existence? 
Does it not suffice to consult our souls? Do we need 
any other guarantee than our devout desire in order 
to lift an open hand and make, for all those who 
await it in their solitude, the sign of concord and of 
















IT was necessary for me to pass middle age in 
order to become convinced that happiness was 
the object of my life, as it is the object of all human- 
ity, as it is the object of the whole world of living 

At first sight, that statement seems self-evident. 
And yet many a time have I questioned my friends, 
my relatives, my chance companions on this subject 
and I have received the most contradictory replies. 

Many seemed taken unawares and, overwhelmed 
with their various burdens, would not trouble to seek 
an object : they were in pursuit of happiness with- 
out naming it. Others, excited by the play of argu- 
ment, acknowledged as the object of life all sorts of 
states or manners of being which are nothing but 
steps toward happiness, means good or bad of seek- 
ing it, such as movement, stoical indifference, or 



prayer. Others confused the end with the object 
and named death. Still others, maddened by their 
misery, gave it as their bitter conclusion that unhap- 
piness is the actual destiny of man, and these con- 
fused the obstacle with the aim. Finally, there were 
some who gave to happiness names dictated by their 
aspirations, their culture, their accustomed manner 
of using words, and called it God, or eternal life, 
or the salvation of the soul. 

As for me, in spite of all, I am sure that happiness 
is the object of life. This certitude has come to me 
altogether from within, not from outside events, and 
not from the spectacle of other men. Like all the 
certitudes of the inner life, it is obstinate and even 
aggressive. All objections seem simply made to 
fortify it. It dominates them all. I have not been 
able even to imagine a new certitude that could in- 
validate or replace this one. 

Upon reflection, the path and the end are identical. 
Happiness is not only the aim, the reason of life, 
it is its means, its expression, its essence. It is life 


One might well doubt this. The whole of human- 
ity at this moment utters one despairing, heart-rend- 
ing cry. It bellows like a wounded beast of burden, 
it simply does not understand its wound. 


All convictions and all certitudes are at one an- 
other's throats. How can we recognize them, with 
that lost look they have, that blood that soils and 
disfigures them? In the hurricane, opinions, up- 
rooted, have lost their soil and their sap. They 
drift like autumn thistles, dry thistles that yet have 
power to tear the skin. Men no longer know any- 
thing but their insurmountable suffering, a suffering 
that has no limit and seems to be without reason. 
They groan and desire nothing but to be alleviated. 
Will a century of pious tenderness suffice to bathe, 
drain, close the vast wound? 

Without delay, O streaming wound, your living 
flesh must be stanched and bathed. From now on, 
no matter how long you bleed, you must be anointed 
and protected, and if you are opened up again ten 
times, ten times must you be anointed anew and 
covered once more. 

Yet, do not doubt it, humanity even in this ter- 
rible hour seeks for nothing but its own happiness. 
It rushes forward, by instinct, like a herd that smells 
the salt-lick and the spring. But it will suffocate 
rather than not enjoy everything together and at 


God ! who has given it this painful and ridiculous 
idea? What were they about, the priests, the 
scientists, and the people who write the books? 


What has been taught the children of men that they 
could have been made to believe that war brings hap- 
piness to anyone? Let them declare themselves, 
those who have assured the poor in spirit that their 
happiness depends upon the possession of a province, 
an iron-mine, or a foaming arm of the sea between 
two distant continents! 

It is thus that they have all set out for the con- 
quest of happiness, since that is destiny, and there 
has been placed in their hands precisely what was 
certain to destroy happiness forever. 

And yet, if you will bear with me, we need not 
lose all hope. So long as there is a single wall-flower 
to tremble in the coming Aprils over the ruins of the 
world, let us repeat from the depths of our hearts: 
" Happiness, you are truly my end and the reason 
for my being, I know it through my own tears." 


I went, lately, to a laboratory, in the heart of a 
wilderness of glass and porcelain, haunted with in- 
human odors. A friend dwelt there. I saw a great 
crystal cask full of distilled water ; the sunlight quiv- 
ered through it freely and majestically. There, I 
thought, is the desert. That water contained noth- 
ing, it was unfitted for life, it was as empty as a dead 

But then we scratched the bottom of the cask and 


looked at it with the microscope. Little round, 
green algae were growing in that desert. A current 
of air had carried the germs, and they had increased 
and multiplied. There where there was nothing to 
seize upon, they had yet found something. The 
taste of barren glass, a few stray grains of dust, 
that soulless water, that sunlight, they had asked for 
nothing more in order to subsist and work out their 
humble joy. 

I thought of this virtue of life, <this perseverance, 
as of a hymn to happiness, a silent hymn prevailing 
over the roars of the conquest. 

Nothing discourages life except, perhaps, the ex- 
cess of itself. 

If Europe, too rich and too beautiful, is to be 
henceforth the vessel of all the sorrows, it is because 
happiness has assumed an unclean mask: the mask 
of pleasure. For pleasure is not joy. 

Patience! The whole world has not been poi- 

I know of mosses that succeed in living upon acids. 
The antiseptics, whose property it is to destroy liv- 
ing things, are at times invaded by these obstinafe 
fungi which encamp there, acclimatize themselves and 
modestly fulfil their destiny. 

One must have confidence in happiness. One must 
have more confidence than ever, for never was hap- 
piness more greatly lacking to the mass of men. So 


cruelly is the world astray, so immensely, so evi- 
dently, too, that we cannot wait for the consumma- 
tion to denounce it and reprove it. 

Like those algae, those mosses, those laborious 
lichens that attach to the very ruins themselves their 
infinite need of happiness, let us seek our joy in the 
distress of the present and make it open for us, like 
a plant beaten by the winds, in the desert of a blasted 


You must understand that this concerns happiness 
and not pleasure, or well-being, or enjoyment, or the 
delight of the senses. 

All cultivated people have created different words 
to designate these different things. All have com- 
mitted their moralists to the task of preserving 
simple souls from a confusion which our instincts 

Delight of the senses, you who are the eternally un- 
satisfactory, is it true, intangible one, that you will 
always deceive us and that we shall always seek for 
happiness through you? 

What seductiveness is not yours, you who smile 
with the lips of love, O mysterious phantom of joy? 
How you lure us and enchain us! Well you know 
how to array yourself, at times, in the appearance 
of a sacred mission, a religious duty ! 


No, you are not happiness, divine though you are ! 
To live without you is a bitter misfortune, but you 
are not happiness ! 

Why does happiness command us to sacrifice you 
often, to mistrust you always? 

There is no happiness without harmonv ; you know 
this very well, you who are delicious disorder itself, 
death, laughter, strife. 

Happiness is our home-land. You are only the 
burning country we long for, the tropical isle where 
our dreams exile themselves, never to return. 

Happiness is our true kingdom. Delight of the 
senses, let your slaves hymn your praise. 

During the summer of 1916 I found among the 
meadows of the Marne a flower that had three odors. 
It is a very common flower in France: it adorns a 
low and spiny plant which the peasants call " arrete- 
bceuf" Toward midday, at the hour when the sun 
exasperates all its creatures, this flower exhales three 
different odors : the first is soft, fresh and resembles 
the perfume of the sweet pea ; the second is sharp 
and makes one think of phosphor irritant, of a 
flame ; the third is the secret breath of love. This 
miraculous flower really has all three of these odors 
at once, but we perceive them more easily one at a 
time because we are not worthy of all this wealth. 


This little discovery descended upon my weary 
head like a benediction. At that time we were leav- 
ing the miseries of Verdun behind and were just 
on the point of plunging into those of the Somme. 
The intermediate rest depressed us and enervated 
us by turns. In the walks across the fields which we 
took with our comrades, I grew accustomed every 
day to gather a root of arrcte-bceuf and offer it, as 
a gift, to those who accompanied me, so that they 
might share my discovery. 

Some of them, anxious about the world and their 
own fortune, took pleasure in this modest marvel. 
They breathed in with these perfumes the inexhaust- 
ible variety of the lavish universe. They distin- 
guished and recognized, smilingly, the three odors of 
this one being. They honored these three am- 
bassadors whom a people of unknown virtues had as- 
signed to them. They interpreted as a revelation 
the little signs of the latent opulence which challenges 
and disdains the majority of bewildered men. 

But others remained insensible to this delicate 
prayer, and these I thought of with chagrin as of 
men who had no care for the welfare of their own 

I know quite well you will say, " There is no rela- 
tion between this flower and the welfare of the soul." 
But this relation does exist, emphatically and 
definitely. Truth shines out of every merest trifle 


that goes to make up the world. We must fasten 
our eyes ardently upon it, as if it were a light shin- 
ing through the branches, arid march forward. 

I am sure, we are all sure, that happiness is the 
very reason for our existence. Let it be added at 
once that happiness is founded upon possession, that 
is to say, upon the perfect and profound understand- 
ing of something. 

For this reason men who have a high conception 
of happiness aspire to the complete and definite 
knowledge of an absolute, a perfection which they 
name God. The desire for eternal life is a bound- 
less need of possession. 

Equally noble is the passionate desire of certain 
men to understand, to possess themselves, to have 
such an exact and merciless conception of their 
moral and physical nature as will give them some 
sort of mastery over it. 

It is indeed a beautiful destiny to pursue the 
understanding of the external world with the 
weapons and the arguments of a science that is not 
the slave of conquest. Men who achieve this may 
indeed be called just. 

Others wish to possess a house, a field, a pair of 
earrings, an automobile. For them possession is not 
understanding, it is above all else an exclusive and 
almost solitary enjoyment. They deceive them- 
selves about happiness and about possession. They 


deceive themselves to the actual point of war, mas- 
sacre and destruction. 

If we wish it, we may possess the whole universe, 
and it is in this possession that we shall find the sal- 
vation of our souls. We may possess, for example, 
that unknown something which walks by the road- 
side, the color of the forest of pointed firs that rises 
sharply against the southern horizon, the thoughts 
of Beethoven, our dreams by night, the conception 
of space, our memories, our future, the odor and the 
weight of objects, our grief at this moment and 
thousands and thousands of other things besides. 

Is my soul immortal? Alas ! how can I still linger 
in this ancient, ingenuous hope? There are millions 
who, like me, can no longer give reasonable credence 
to such an impossible happiness. 

But does my soul exist? Every thought bears 
witness that it does, and this life of ours too, and the 
inexplicable life that is all about us. 

When Christians speak of the salvation of the 
soul, they are thinking of all sorts of assurances and 
precautions in regard to that future life which re- 
mains the greatest charm of religion and at the same 
time its most wonderful weapon. 

We can give a humbler but more immediate mean- 
ing to this expression. 

First of all, not to be ignorant of our own souls ! 

To think about the soul, to think about it at least 


once in the confusion of every crowded day, is indeed 
the beginning of salvation. 

To think with perseverance and respect of the 
soul, to enrich it unceasingly, that will be our 


We have all known those men who, at the first 
break of day, while they are still half awake and 
barely rested, fling themselves into the stress of busi- 
ness. They pass all day from one man to another 
in a sort of blind, buzzing frenzy. They are cease- 
lessly reaching out to take, to appropriate for them- 
selves. If a moment of solitude offers itself, they 
pull note-books out of their pockets and begin figur- 
ing. Between whiles they eat, drink and seek a sort 
of sleep that is more arid than death. Looking at 
these unfortunates, who are often men of great im- 
portance, one would imagine their souls were like de- 
crepit poor relations, relegated to some corner of 
their personality, with which they never concern 

I was once returning from the country on a train 
with a young surgeon on whom that cruel fortune 
which we call success was beginning to smile. I can 
still see him, breathless and almost stupefied, on the 
seat facing me. He had been talking to me of his 
work, of how he spent his time, with a restless ex- 


citement which the noise of the train hammered and 
disjointed and gave a sort of rhythm to. Evening 
was falling. It gave me pleasure to look at the 
young poplars in the valley beside the track, their 
foliage and slender trunks transfigured by the sun- 
set. My friend looked at them also, and suddenly 
he murmured : "It 's true ! I 'm no longer in- 
terested in those things, I no longer pay attention 
to anything." Through the fatigue and anxiety of 
his affairs, through the jingling calculation of his 
profits, he suddenly caught a glimpse of his error, 
of his real poverty. His repudiated soul stirred in 
the depths of his being as the infant stirs in its 
mother's womb. 

It is constantly awakening in this way and timidly 
reclaiming its rights. Often, an unexpected word 
strikes us, a word that comes from it and reveals it. 
I have as a workfellow a quiet, studious young man 
who takes life " seriously," that is to say, in such a 
fashion that he gets himself into a fine state of mind 
and will die, perhaps, without having known, with- 
out having saved, the soul with which he is charged. 
At the beginning of the month of June of this year 
1918, I found myself hard at work during one of 
those overwhelming afternoons that seem, on our 
barren Champagne, like a white furnace, a glistening 
desert. There were many wounded and the greater 
part had been uncared for for several days ; the 


barrack that served us as an operating-hall was 
overcrowded ; our task was a tragic one ; the demon 
of war had imprisoned us under his knee. We felt 
crushed, exasperated, swamped in these immediate 
realities. Between two wounded men, as I was soap- 
ing my gloves, I saw my young comrade looking 
far away through a little window and his gaze was 
suddenly bathed with calm and peace. " What are 
you looking at? " I said to him. " Oh ! nothing," he 
replied ; " only I 'm resting myself on that little tuft 
of verdure down there: it refreshes me so much." 


It seems childish and paradoxical to oppose to all 
the concrete and formidable realities that are consid- 
ered as the hereditary wealth of mankind an almost 
purely ideal world of joys that have no price, that 
remain outside all our bargainings, that are un- 
stable, often fugitive, and always relative in appear- 
ance, whenever we put them to the test. Yet they 
alone are absolute, they alone are true. Where they 
are lacking there may be a place for amusement, 
there is no place for true happiness. They alone 
are capable of assuring the salvation of the soul. 
We ought to labor passionately to find them, to 
amass them as the veritable treasures of humanity. 

The future we are permitted to glimpse seems the 
very negation of happiness and the ruin of the soul. 


If this is true, we must examine it with open minds 
and then, with all our strength, refuse it. 

Just this moment, when the struggle for mastery 
goes on, to the great peril of the soul, among the 
peoples, just this moment I choose for saying: 
" Let us think of the salvation of our souls." And 
this salvation is not a matter of the future but of 
the present hour. Let us recognize the existence 
of the soul; it is thus that we shall save it. Let us 
give it the freedom of the city in a world where every- 
thing conspires to silence or destroy it. If it is true 
that this withdraws us from that struggle for exist- 
ence, the clamor of which assails our ears, well, even 
so, I believe it is better to die than to remain in a 
universe from which the soul is banished. But we 
shall have occasion to speak more than once of this. 

Let us not forget that happiness is our one aim. 
Happiness is, above all, a thing of the spirit, and we 
shall only deserve it at the price of the honors we 
render to the noblest part of our being. 


There are people who have said to me, " My hap- 
piness lies in this very hurly-burly, this brutish labor, 
this frantic agitation which you spurn. Outside 
this turmoil of business and society, I am bored. I 
need it. I need it in order to divert my thoughts." 

No doubt ! No doubt ! But what have you done 


with your life that it has become necessary to divert 
your thoughts? What have you made of your past, 
what do you hope from your future when this al- 
cohol, this opium, has become necessary to you? 

You must understand me, there is no question, if 
you are built as an athlete, of letting your muscles 
deteriorate. There is no question, if you have a 
great tbirst for controversy, a natural aptitude for 
struggle, of letting that thirst go unsatisfied, that 
aptitude uncultivated. The question is simply one 
of harmoniously employing all these fine gifts, of en- 
riching yourself with those real treasures the uni- 
verse bestows on those who wish to take them, and 
not of wearing out your radiant strength in the 
labors of a street-porter, a galley-slave or an execu- 

Here is a man who says to me : " My happiness ! 
My happiness ! But it consists in never thinking of 
my soul." What a sad thing! And how gravely 
one must have offended others and one's own self to 
have reached that point ! 

For where shall he who loves torment, passionate 
restlessness, uncertainty, and remorse discover these 
terrible blessings if it is not in the depths of his own 

hateful ego? 


If anyone tells you something strange about the 
world, something you have never heard before, do 


not laugh but listen attentively ; make him repeat it, 
make him explain it: no doubt there is something 
there worth taking hold of. 

The cult of the soul is a perpetual discovery of it- 
self and the universe which it reflects. The purest 
happiness is not a stable and final frame of mind, 
it is an equilibrium produced by an incessant com- 
promise which has to be adroitly reestablished; it is 
the rpward of a constant activity ; it increases in pro- 
portion to the daily corrections one brings to it. 

One must not cling obstinately to one's own in- 
terpretations of the world but unceasingly renew the 
flowers on tbc altar. 

In quite another order of ideas I think of those 
old-fashioned manufacturers who are immovably set 
against trying any of the new machines and perish in 
their stubbornness. That is nothing but a com- 
parison: to justify the machine folly is quite the 
opposite of my desire. I simply wish to show that 
routine affects equally the things of the mind and of 
the heart, that it is a very formidable thing. 

Kipling, 1 believe, tells the story of a Hindu 
colony that was decimated by famine. The poor 
folk let themselves die of hunger without touching 
the wheat that had been brought for them, because 
they had been used to eating millet. 

If the sacred lamp of happiness some day comes 
to lack the ritual oil, we shall not let it go out; we 


shall surely find something with which to feed it, 
something that will serve for light and heat. 


The will to happiness attains its perfection in the 
mature man. With adolescence it passes through a 
redoubtable crisis. 

Nietzsche says: " There is less melancholy in the 
mature man than in the young man." It is true. 

Very young people cultivate sadness as something 
noble. They do not readily forgive themselves for 
not being always sad. They have discovered the 
mysterious isle of melancholy and do not wish to 
escape from it again. They love everything about 
that black magician and his attitudes and his tears 
and his nostalgia and his romantic beauty. They 
have a fierce disdain for vulgar pleasures and take 
refuge in sadness because they do not yet know the 
splendor and majesty of joy. 

But in their own fashion, which is full of disdain, 
reserve and ingenuous complexity, they do not any 
the less seek for happiness. 

With age happiness appears as truly the sole, 
serene study of man. As he rests upon the moral 
possession of the world, he believes that with time and 
experience he can remain insensible to the wearing 
out of his bodily organs. 

He who knows how to be happy and to win for- 


giveness for his happiness, how enviable he is ! the 
only true model among those that are wise. 

It is now, just now, that these things ought to be 
said, in the hour when our old continent bleeds in 
every member, in the hour when our future seems 
blotted out by the menace of every sort of servitude 
and of a hopeless labor that will know neither 
measure nor redemption. 



THE Christian doctrine, which has all the 
beauties, has all the audacities too. It has 
endeavored to make the sublime and daring notion 
prevail among the mass of men that salvation is re- 
served for the poor. What a magnificent thing! 
And if this religion of poverty has degenerated in the 
course of the centuries, with what consolation has it 
not bathed those thrice-happy souls whom an un- 
broken faith guides through misery and humiliation ! 
But there has never been a religion which has been 
able to found itself upon renunciation without com- 
pensation. Is he poor, this man who consents to go 
unclad, roofless, unfed, up to the day when there will 
be showered upon him all the riches of the kingdom of 
God? Has he no thought of a supreme gift, of a 
magnificent possession, the man to whom his master, 
in person, has given the command : " Lay up your 
treasures in heaven, where they will not be lost "? 

He does not exist, the hopeless being who does not 


hunger for some treasure, even if it is an imaginary 
one, even an unreal one, even one that is lost in a be- 
wildering future. 

In what an abyss of poverty should we groan if our 
kingdom were not of this world and were nowhere 
outside the world, either? 

And now a generation of men has come that no 
longer believes in the supernatural felicities of the 
future life and seems no longer to have anything to 
hope from a world consumed by hatred and given over 
inevitably, for long years, to confusion, destitution, 
egotistical passions. 

In truth, the programmes of the social factions 
have no consolation for us, there is nothing in them 
that speaks of love and the true blessings ; all these 
monuments of eloquence bring us back to hatred and 

The most generous of them only give us glimpses 
of new struggles, new sheddings of blood, when our 
age is drunk with crime and fatigue. To whichever 
side the individual turns he finds himself crushed, 
scoffed at, sacrificed to insatiable, hostile gods. 

A few years ago Maeterlinck wrote : " Up to the 
present men have left one religion to enter another ; 
but when we abandon ours, it is not to go anywhere. 
That is a new phenomenon, with unknown conse- 
quences, in the midst of which we live." 

Having quoted these words, I hasten to add that 


the war is no particular consequence of this moral 
state of the world. The question of religion is 
not involved at all. The priests are quite ready to 
abuse these easy oppositions in order to obtain argu- 
ments in favor of their cause. But they know well 
enough, alas ! that if the teaching of Christ stigma- 
tizes wars, the religions have only contributed to 
multiply and aggravate them. They know very well 
that, in the conflict that now divides the earth, the 
religions have shown themselves enslaved to the 
states. No one has wished to take up the wallet and 
staff of the dead Tolstoy. 

Humanity seems poorer and more truly disinher- 
ited than ever. Its kingdom is in itself and in 
everything that surrounds it; but it has sold it for 
a morsel of bread. And how can one reproach it for 
this ? It is very hungry and its heart is not open to 



We shall seek together the materials of our happi- 
ness. Together we shall pile up all those marvelous 
little things that must constitute our patrimony, our 

We shall have great misfortunes and we shall often 
be bitterly deceived. It is because the war has suc- 
ceeded in depriving the simplest and the most sacred 
things of the light of eternity. That is not the least 
consequence of the catastrophe. We must make a 


painful effort to recover that light and clear it of its 
blemishes. Silence, solitude, the sky, the vestiture of 
the earth, all the riches of the poor have been sullied 
as if forever. The works of art have been mutilated. 
They have taken refuge under the earth where they 
seem to veil their faces. 

We ought to seek and gather together the debris 
so that we can take up and love in secret every day 
the fragments of our liberties. 

We ought to think unceasingly of that " mean 
landscape " of which Charles Vildrac has spoken in 
one of his most beautiful poems. It is an unfruitful 
landscape, despoiled, denatured by the sad labor of 
men, and apparently worn out ; 

But even so you found, if you sought there, 

One happy spot where the grass grew rich, 

Even so you heard, if you listened, 

The whisper of leaves 

And the birds pursuing one another. 

And if you had enough love, 
You could even ask of the wind 
Perfumes and music . . . 

We shall have enough love! That shall be the 
principle and source of our wealth. 

And so we shall not have a whole life of poverty. 
When love, that is to say, grace, abandons us, we 
shall perhaps know hours of poverty. That will help 
us all the better to understand our hours of opulence, 
and all the better cherish them. 



If you wish, we can divide our task, enumerate the 
coffers in which we are to pile our treasures. 

First of all, let us stop over a word. We have 
said: to possess is to know. The definition may 
seem to you arbitrary. On the chance of this I open 
my little pocket dictionary, which is the whole library 
I have as a soldier, and read : " To possess : to have 
for oneself, in one's power, to know to the bottom." 
Let us accept that. We shall see, page by page, if 
it is possible for us to satisfy these naive, direct defi- 

What is most certain to attract our glance, when 
we look about us, is the world of men, our fellow- 
creatures. Their figures are certainly the most af- 
fecting spectacle that can be offered us. Their acts 
undoubtedly constitute, owing to a natural inclina- 
tion and an indestructible solidarity, the chief object 
of our curiosity. Good! We shall possess them 
first of all. We shall possess this inexhaustible fund 
of other people. 

We shall feel no shame then in contemplating, with 
a noble desire, whatever strikes our senses, the ani- 
mals, that is to say, the plants, the material universe 
of stones and waters, the sky and even the populous 
stars. These, too, ought to be well worth posses- 


Already our wealth seems immense. Our ambition 
is still greater: we must possess our dreams. But 
have not illustrious men made more beautiful dreams 
than ours? Yes, and these men are called Shake- 
speare, Dante, Rembrandt, Goethe, Hugo, Rodin ; 
there are a hundred of them, even more; their works 
form the royal crown of humanity. We shall possess 
that crown. It is for us it was forged, for us it was 
bejewelled with immortal joys. 

It would be vain to extend our possession only into 
space. It overruns time : we possess the past, that is 
to say, our memories, and the future in our hopes. 

And then we also possess, and in the strictest sense 
of all, our sorrows, our griefs, our despair, if that 
supreme and terrible treasure is reserved for us. 

Finally, there will be times when we possess noth- 
ing but an idea, but this may perhaps be the idea of 
the absolute or the infinite. If it is given us to pos- 
sess God, then, no doubt, nothing else will be neces- 
sary to us. 

Every time that we possess the world purely we 
shall find that we have touched an almost unhoped for 
happiness, for it is always being offered to us and 
we do not think of it : we shall possess ourselves. 

We shall share all our riches with our companions : 
that shall be our apostolate. And we shall manage 
in some way to resist the seductions or the commands 
of a society that is going to ruin, a society that is 


even more unhappy and abused than corrupt. If, in 
consequence, we are permitted to glimpse, even if only 
for the space of a minute, a little more happiness 
about us, a little more happiness than there is at 
present, we shall at last be so happy as to accept 
death with joy. 


The greatest of all joys is to give happiness, and 
those who do not know it have everything to learn 
about life. The annals of humanity abound with 
illustrious deeds aptly proving that generosity en- 
riches first of all those who practise it. 

Not to mention any celebrated instance, I shall tell 
you one simple little tale. It is of the truth I live on, 
my daily bread. 

Just now, not far from me, there is a young 
English soldier from the neighborhood of York who is 
so severely wounded in the lower part of the stomach 
that the natural functions of the body have been 
completely upset and he has been reduced to a state 
of terrible suffering. 

And yet, when I went to see him this morning, this 
boy gave me an extraordinary smile, his very first, a 
smile full of delicacy and hope, a smile of resurrec- 

Presently I learned the cause of this great joy. 
The dying man pulled from under his pillow a 


cigarette he had hidden there, which he had secretly 
saved for me and now gave me. 

There are many who preach an unpretentious life 
and the sweetness of possessing a little garden. The 
most magnificent of gardens is insignificant compared 
with this world in which nothing is refused us. Ac- 
cepting the little garden we should have the air of 
those dispossessed kings who lose an empire to be 
ironically dowered with a small island. 

If we find it pleasant to employ our muscles in dig- 
ging the earth, there are a thousand spots where we 
can easily practise this wholesome and fruitful exer- 
cise. But we shall never really possess a single clod 
of earth because a legal deed has declared that it 
belongs exclusively to us. The world itself! Our 
love demands the whole world ; the rocks, the clouds, 
the great trees along the highway, the darting flight 
of birds, receding into the evening, the rustling ver- 
dure high above that wall that vainly strives to shut 
in the private property of someone else, the shining 
glory of those flowers we glimpse through the iron 
railings of a park, and even that very wall and rail- 
ing themselves. 

According to the stretch of our wings, the scope of 
our desires, we shall possess whatever our hands touch 
with ardor and respect, whatever delights our eyes 


from the summits of mountains, whatever our 
thoughts bring back from their travels through legen- 
dary lands. 

To possess the world is purely a question of the 
intensity of our understanding of it. One does not 
possess things on their surfaces but in their depths ; 
but the spirit alone can penetrate into the depths, 
and for the spirit there is no barrier. 

Many men to whom the law allows the gross, official 
possession of a statue, a gem, a beautiful horse or a 
province wear themselves out fulfilling a role to which 
no human being has received a call. Every moment 
they perceive with bitterness that men who have no 
legal title whatever to these material goods draw 
from them a delight that is superior to the enjoyment 
they themselves get from them as absolute owners. 
They often find, in this way, that a friend appreciates 
their beautiful pictures better fhan they do, that a 
groom is a better judge of their own stables, that a 
passer-by draws out of " their landscape " a purer 
joy than theirs and more original ideas. They take 
their revenge by obstinately confusing the usage of a 
thing with its possession. 

Jesus said that the rich man renounced the king- 
dom of God. He renounces many other things as 
well. For if he shuts himself up within his proud 
walls, he abandons the marvelous universe for a small 
fragment of it ; and if he is actually curious about 


the universe, if he appreciates its significance, how 
can he consent without guilt to hide a portion of it 
away from the contemplation of others? 

In order to express the gross and exclusive posses- 
sion of things society has invented various words and 
phrases that betray the weak efforts of men to appro- 
priate for themselves, in spite of everything, in spite 
of the laws of love, the riches that remain the prerog- 
ative of all. They speak, for example, of " dispos- 
ing of a piece of property," which means having it 
subject to our pleasure, being able to do as we choose 
with it. The sacrilegious vanity of this view of the 
world gives the possessor, as his supreme right, the 
power to destroy his own treasure. He could not, 
indeed, have a greater right than that. But what 
sort of desperate possession is it, I ask, that considers 
the destruction of the object possessed as the supreme 
manifestation of power? 

The world has long known and still knows slavery. 
Lords and masters claimed the extravagant right of 
disposing of other human beings. They all insisted, 
as a mark of authority, on their right of dealing 
death to their slaves. But truly, what was the power 
of these despots compared with the deep, sensitive, 
voluntary bond that united Plato to Socrates, or 
John to Christ? 

Epictetus suffered at the hands of Epaphroditus. 
For all that, Epaphroditus was not able to prevent 


his slave from reigning, through his thought, over 
the centuries. Epaphroditus' right of possession 
seems to us ridiculous and shameful. Who can fairly 
envy him when so many centuries have passed judg- 
ment on him? 


Every philosophy has given magnificent expression 
to these immortal truths. What can we add to the 
words of Epictetus, of Marcus Aurelius, of Christ in 
regard to the vanity of those riches which alone 
society admits to be of value? 

But the poets have said to us, " Do not abandon 
the world, for it abounds in pure and truly divine 
joys that will be lost if you do not harvest them ! " 

The road that ought to be sweet for us to follow 
crosses now that of the Christians, now that of the 
Stoics. We may stop now at the Garden of Olives, 
now at the threshold of that small house without a 
door, without furnishings, where the master of Arrien 
used to live. 

Our road will lead us even more often through wild, 
solitary places, or to the pillow of some man who 
sleeps in the earth, or to the smiling dwelling of some 
humble friend, or again into the melodious shadow 
where the souls of Beethoven and Johann Sebastian 
Bach forever dwell. 

We shall not struggle with the mass of deluded man 


to possess the known, so long as the unknown remains 
without a master. We shall give up crude material 
possession in order to dream all the better of spiritual 

No, we cannot any longer renounce our kingdom 
when it calls to us, when for us it sings, hosanna ! 

And those of us who already have their place in the 
kingdom of heaven must not hesitate to demand their 
share of this world also ; for the world has been given 
to all men so that each man, with the help of all the 
rest, may possess the whole of it. 



IN the exile of the war I have fifteen comrades, and 
we live side by side like seamen on the deck of a 
ship. Everything brings us together: work, sleep, 
play, food and danger. Even our quarrels reunite 
us, for, in order to quarrel well, you have to know 
your man : between strangers disputes have little 

I never chose these men for my companions, as I 
once thought I had a right to do. They have been 
given to me like a handful of fruit of which some is 
juicy and some green. They have been taken at ran- 
dom, as if by a drag of that net which respects noth- 
ing, from the swarming species of man. Thanks, 
therefore, to the blind and divine world which has 
thrown the net into the flood ! 

They are my treasure, my study, and my daily 
task. They are my purpose, my horizon, my tor- 
ment, and my recompense. 

Although far from my own people, far from those 
* 83 


with whom I have carried on my life, I could not feel 
myself destitute, abandoned ; the world is not empty 
for me since I have these fifteen men to manage, this 
cherished problem to ponder, this soil to work over, 
this vintage for the winepress. 

I accept the gift, the restless opulence, the fifteen 
glances that open on fifteen different heavens where 
there shine neither the same seasons nor the same 
stars, those fifteen proud, vindictive souls whom I 
must win over and subdue like wild horses. 

To be sure, a few of these men are frank, level in 
temperament, as plain to the eye as a smooth pebble 
on the beach ; one touches them, holds them, grasps 
them in a moment like a big piece of silver in the hol- 
low of the hand. But so many others are change- 
able, furtive, so many others are rough like ore in 
which only the fissures glisten and betray the inner 

The more unresponsive and secretive they seem, 
without any obvious beauty, the more resolved I find 
I am to look upon them as a treasure, to search 
through them as if they were a soil that is full of 

There are some of them that I love, there are some 
whom I think that I do not love. What does it mat- 
ter! The interest I devote to them is not in the 
least dependent on the throbs of my heart. That one 
who never speaks and conceals, under his obstinate 


forehead, two little eyes of green glass, certainly 
he does not naturally arouse my affection. Never- 
theless, how different is the attention with which I 
regard him from the curiosity of a scientist watching 
the stirrings of fish in an aquarium ! It makes me 
think, that attention, rather of the dizzy joy of the 
miser who weighs a gold-piece, the effigy on which 
does n't please him. Gold, nevertheless ! 

True! How could I feel bored with these faces 
turned toward me, with this choir of human voices 
singing, each in its own familiar key, yet blending 
into the masculine clamor of an orchestra? 

Everything they say is precious ; less so, however, 
than what they keep to themselves. The reasons 
they give for their actions astonish me at times ; those 
they do not confess, especially those of which they 
themselves are ignorant, always fill me with passion- 
ate interest. A word, fallen from their lips like a 
piece of paper from an unknown pocket, arrests me 
and sets me dreaming for long days. About them I 
build up daring and yet fragile hypotheses which 
they either obligingly support or destroy with a care- 
less gesture. I always begin again, delighting in it ; 
it is my recreation. I enjoy finding that my hy- 
potheses are right, for that satisfies my pride; I 
enjoy finding I am wrong, for that reveals to me leafy 
depths in my park that are still unexplored. 

And then I know that only a small part of their 


nature is involved in our intercourse. The rest 
branches off, ramifies out into the perspectives of the 
world. I think of it as of that side of the moon 
which men will never see. I reconstruct with a pious, 
a burning patience that life of theirs which is outside 
this, their true life, endlessly complicated, linked by a 
thousand tentacles with a thousand other unknown 
lives. So must Cuvier's mind have wandered as he 
turned and returned a fossil tooth, the only vestige of 
some vast, unknown organism. 

There is all this in people, and then there is the 
past that each one has, his own past, his ancestors, 
the prodigious combination of actions and of souls of 
which he is the result And there is his future, the 
unexplored desert toward which he stretches out 
anxious tentacles, and into which I dare to venture, 
I, the stranger, with trembling heart, the tiny lantern 
in my hand. 

These are my riches today. They are inalienable : 
a man may flee from an indiscretion, he cannot escape 
the grip of contemplation and love. Even if he de- 
sired it, his very struggles would reveal his move- 
ments, betray the deepest secrets of his being, deliver 
him over bound hand and foot. 

As for myself, eager to hoard up my treasure, I 
give myself up without a struggle. Rich in others, I 
yield myself into their hands. And if, in spite of 
myself, I attempt some evasion, am I not sure to 


render the prey all the more desirable, all the more 
beautiful ? 


They say of curiosity that it was the beginning of 
science. That is not praise enough, it sounds rather 
like an excuse. 

What is more human, more touching than this re- 
ligious reaching out toward the unknown, this sort of 
instinct which makes us divine and attack the mys- 
tery ? 

To take pride in not being curious ! One might as 
well take pride in some ridiculous infirmity. It is 
true that even that is in the order of things normal, 
and that vanity finds its nourishment where it can. 

Doubtless there is a sort of curiosity which is both 
weak and cowardly. It is that of men who dare not 
remain alone a moment face to face with themselves ; 
they take refuge in loquacity and in reading the 
daily newspapers. Their fashion of interesting 
themselves in everything that goes on is a confession 
that they are unable to become interested in any- 
thing eternal. They depend as if for nourishment on 
that noise which those who have nothing to say arc 
always making. They are like children who cannot 
amuse themselves alone, or like stupid monarchs who 
fear nothing so much as silence and their own 
thoughts, the emptiness of their own thoughts ! 


And then there are the easy-going people. They 
want to know everything, the number of your mater- 
nal aunt's children, the price of the furniture and 
the wages of the servants. They want to know 
everything and they will never know anything. 
Their life is spent in forced smiles and in gracefully 
holding a cup of tea. 

Their souls contain vast lists of names, dates and 
other miserable things. They go through life like 
beasts of burden, weighed down under loads that have 
no value. 

There are maniacs, too, perverts, freaks, people 
that are full of curiosity about a postage stamp, the 
handle of an umbrella; but of these I dare not say 
anything, for I remember an old and very wise mas- 
ter who used to say to us with a smile : " You who 
are entering upon scientific careers must begin right 
away to think about collections, even if you have to 
collect boxes of matches." 

To tell the truth, is it our business to be wise, to be 
learned? Hardly! It is our business to be rich. 

Well, then, there are not two kinds of curiosity. 
Let us leave out of the question all those dull stupidi- 
ties we dare to call by this name. 

The curious man seems strangely uninterested in 
that which excites the loquacity of trivial souls. He 
does not trouble himself to find out the year in which 
a house was built, or the honors accorded to the arch- 


itect ; he dreams in secret of the tastes, the passions 
of the man who had that little, low window pierced 
on the north side and that black tree with its twisted 
branches planted at the edge of the pond. He does 
not ask a young woman the name of her dressmaker, 
but trembles at the thought of understanding what 
made her choose that disturbing dress to wear this 
particular day. He does not question his mistress 
about her opinion of him, but seeks passionately to 
understand the opinion he has at this moment of her. 
He does not hasten to ask his travelling companions 
about their professions and the political opinions 
they uphold, because, as he watches their faces, he is 
studying discreetly and sympathetically the meaning 
of the little wrinkle that moves between their brows, 
or the significance of a glance, its source and its 
object. He does not solicit confidences, he receives 
them almost without wishing to ; they come naturally 
to him ; he is their sure and deep receptacle. 

Curious about all this vast world, he seems 
especially concerned with its image in himself. He 
bears his curiosity like a sacred gift and exercises it, 
or rather honors it, as one would perform the rites of 
a cult. 

Do not say you would not wish to be that man. 
You who feel pride in possessing yourself of a secret, 
in drawing out a confession, in meriting the confi- 
dence of another man, must realize that it is a mar- 


velous fortune to be thus the tenderly imperious con- 
fidant who cannot be denied, though often the rest of 
the world knows nothing of it. And it is possible for 
you, even if you cannot become such a man at once, 
at least to labor to become one. Begin, with this in 
view, to deliver yourself from your little servile curi- 
osities. Let us work together for this future. Let 
us enter so deeply into ourselves that people will say 
of us, " That man is not curious about anything." 
From that moment we shall have begun to chant the 
hymn of the great, the divine curiosity. 


The possession of others is a passion, that is to 
say, it is an ordeal, a painful effort. This supreme 
joy, like all the joys to which we attach value, is born 
out of suffering. 

We must experience men in order to know them, 
and our neighbor for whom, or through whom, we 
have never had to endure any anguish, has surprises 
in store for us, or else escapes us altogether: that is 
almost a truism. 

Like all others, this treasure cannot be acquired 
without effort, without bitterness ; but it knows no 
decay, it never ceases to grow through the mere play 
of the forces of our life and seems as if sheltered from 
the blows of fate. It does not, like money, depreci- 


ate in value or serve ignoble ends. It only returns to 

It is not strictly personal. It can be shared and 
bequeathed. Since it escapes destruction and death, 
it can become the most precious of heritages ; it has 
this superiority over money, that its transmission is 
really valid only after it has been in some sort of 
way reconquered. It must fall into worthy hands 
that will know how to work to preserve, cultivate and 
build it up again. In certain points it resembles 
what we call experience. 

To suffer, first of all! That is surely one of the 
grandeurs of our race, and we truly love our bless- 
ings for what they have cost us in tears, in sweat, in 

It is repugnant to the spirit to admit that any- 
thing can be a blessing which the war has given. 
The desperate folly of the Western world has engen- 
dered and still holds in reserve such great misfortunes 
that we cannot ransack all these ruins, these heaps of 
bones, with any hope of extracting from them, as 
ragpickers do with their hooks, some fragment that 
is good, some useful bit of waste. No! There is 
no excuse for this ferocious, immeasurable stupidity. 
And yet, men have suffered so terribly from one 
another that they have learned to know one another, 
that is to say, to possess one another mutually. In 


spite of my own denials, let me save this bit of wreck- 
age from the general disaster. That is indeed one 
blessing so dearly bought that we shall not willingly 
give it up. And I do not speak here only of those 
who have fought against each other ; I speak also of 
those who have fought side by side, who have shed 
their blood for the same cause and under the same 

Companions have been given us, imposed upon us, 
association with whom, even when casual and transi- 
tory, would once have seemed impossible to us. Liv- 
ing as free men, we sought to control the inevitable as 
far as possible, to choose our own road and avoid 
those whose opinions or points of view about the uni- 
verse were likely to offend our own. We thus made 
use of that liberty for the most part in order to 
humor our irritable feelings, to lull our souls to sleep 
in a precarious security, and restrict the area of our 
inward activity. 

Then came the war and we had not only to suffer 
from the enemy, to endure unforeseen attacks in 
regions of ourselves that we considered invulnerable, 
but to suffer still more from our own messmates, 
from those who commanded us and especially those 
whom we commanded. 

Could it have been otherwise? No! No! If 
that suffering had been spared us, we should not 
have been men, we should not have gone to war, we 


should not have been those divine animals whom it is 
so beautiful and so shameful to be and whom we can- 
not help being. 

We have been told that all suffering is sterile, hope- 
less and without redemptive power. That it only 
serves to nourish hatred. But how marvelous it is 
when it engenders understanding, that is to say, pos- 
session, that is to say, love! 

I have observed that for many men, except in 
actual bodily encounter, combat face to face, the 
eaemy has lost all individual or specific character and 
has become almost confounded with the great hostile 
forces of nature: lightning, fire, tidal waves. The 
bullet coming from so far away, the shell hurled from 
beyond the horizon, all Chese mortal powers are sim- 
ply like a form of blind destiny. In spite of daily 
lessons in hatred, in spite of vociferations, these men 
die courageously, with a resigned despair, without 

But with other, less noble souls, the tendency to 
aversion and quarreling, thus turned back from the 
enemy, seeks its objects in their immediate surround- 
ings and finds them, creates them, alas ! 

My comrades, my comrades, if the uncertainty of 
your spirit, your agony, the rebelliousness of your 
afflicted flesh urges you to seek those who are respon- 
sible, do not look too angrily upon those who are 
about you, do not, in your aberration, accuse Hou- 


telette because he is a chatterbox, Exmelin because 
he is an egoist, or Bleche because he is a rude, morose 
commander. Do not place your misery to the ac- 
count of Mcry, who is so slow in obeying, and be 
willing to admit that Maurin is not to blame for 
everything because his opinions are not the same as 
yours. At least, if you must draw your circle of ani- 
mosity, make it so close about you that it contains 
only yourselves, and seek first of all in yourselves the 
causes of your unhappiness. 

Better still, apply yourselves to looking your suf- 
fering in the face, putting it, with insight and pre- 
cision, to the proof. 

You know that a loathsome drink almost ceases to 
be loathsome when you drink it without haste but 
with a desire to appreciate the precise quality of its 
bitterness. Exactly in this same manner you should 
endeavor to measure, to study your suffering. In- 
stead of abhorring it, try in a way to understand it ; 
it will become interesting, curious, I dare not say 

If Mery carries out your orders badly, consider 
systematically how he can be made to become, in spite 
of himself, a really good servant. If Bleche exer- 
cises his authority in a way that incessantly wounds 
you, interest yourself in his brutality, try to analyze 
his movements, his expressions, his familiar habits, 
and you will then be in a better position, not to 


escape from him indeed, but to avoid at times the 
sting, the cut of his peremptoriness. You will make 
him restless by doing this, and you will set him think- 
ing. It is not necessary for him to fear you, it is 
enough for him to recognize in you a free force with 
which he has to reckon, a force it is wise to pro- 
pitiate. Meanwhile, to use a colloquialism, " you've 
got him." Every time you have obliged him to be 
less arrogant, more just with you, you can say that 
you have " had " him, as the soldiers so admirably 
put it. 

This possession costs a certain amount of work. 
But you are willing to toil eight hours in order to 
earn ten francs that do not remain for a single day 
between your fingers ; you can certainly afford a 
few minutes of your effort and your soul to acquire a 
treasure of which nothing will ever be able to deprive 


The very rich man owns several estates. There is 
always one that he prefers, that he frequents and 
cultivates by choice. There are others where he goes 
only from time to time, at the solicitation of some 
state of his soul which inclines him to seek, for a 
period, the mountains, or the ocean, or the open 
country. There are some, finally, which he does not 
love at all but of which, nevertheless, he will not 


dispossess himself because they are part of his fol- 

It is so with you who possess a family, friends, 
comrades, and adversaries. It is so with you who 
are able to draw, without let or hindrance, from the 
immense well of humankind. You must refuse noth- 
ing; you must accept everything, find out the value 
of everything, store everything away. The world of 
men is a rich patrimony, the exploitation of which 
is expressly confided to you. You must not be a 
bad administrator, you must make all your land 
bring forth its fruit. 

Choose every day what is necessary to you, for 
you are the master. 

You must know, besides, how to accept the in- 
evitable and take chances, for you are nothing but a 

Construct a scale, a clear, harmonious keyboard. 
Like an organist you must know the right moment to 
pull the stop of the oboe and unloose the thunder 
of the bass. The pipes are not at fault: it is for 
you to become a good musician. The face of Guil- 
laumin suits you in the morning, and his ideas re- 
juvenate you like fresh water. The eloquence of 
Maurin is like a tonic in your hours of recreation. 
But there are desolate evenings when what you un- 
doubtedly need is the deep voice of Cauchois and his 
affectionate silence. 


In 'spite of the legendary ages, in spite of the re- 
ligions, in spite of the poets, in spite of the mar- 
velous traditions and, above all, in spite of our own 
deepest aspirations, we must unquestionably abandon 
the hope of an occult correspondence between souls. 

It is a renunciation that it is hard to admit. 
Every day events envelop us that seem to revive the 
vanished perfume of mystery. Our reason is in no 
haste to dissipate these clouds, to pierce these ap- 
pearances : too well they soothe the irritating need of 
not being quite solitary in the interior of ourselves, 
of not being quite exiles in an inaccessible desert. 

That nothing outside our senses can reveal to us 
the proximity of a beloved person, the danger that 
is approaching him, the death that is coming to 
clasp him, is an extremity to which we find our- 
selves reduced without ever submissively making up 
our minds to it. 

A few courageous men have halted before this 
mountain and undertaken to lift it. Let us leave 
them toiling in the shadow ; let us aid them, if not 
by our effort, at least by our silence, and wait. 

Let us wait, but let us not cease to go forth to 
other battles. The unlnnwn never fails us. And 
as for what we shall choose, there is so much in the 
unknown to allure us, to enchant us ! If we give up 


surmounting one obstacle another will always rise 
before our feet. From obstacle to obstacle we shall 
always be led to the foot of the same wall. We 
shall consume our whole life in the struggle, know- 
ing that the very interest of life lies in that struggle 
and in those obstacles. 

Now and then, detached by great efforts of the 
pickaxe and the mattock, a fragment of the somber 
mountain rolls at our feet. We stop it with rap- 
ture, we examine it, we lift it with a sort of sadness, 
in order to try its weight. There is no victory 
that demands so great a price or seems to us more 
desolate. It is as if we roused ourselves to a frenzy 
to destroy the unknown in order that our success 
might fill us with bitterness. Happily, the unknown 
is always there. 

I find myself alone with the person who of all the 
world is the closest to me, the best loved, the most 
perfectly chosen. The silence exhales a light per- 
fume, a unique perfume that seems that of our kin- 
dred souls. Oh! how we should like to believe that 
the essences of our beings, delivered at last, might 
communicate and unite with each other in the inter- 
mediate space, in the impassable abyss! 

At this very moment we surprise in one another's 
eyes a common thought. Simultaneously, it escapes 
our lips with a sort of rapturous precipitancy, as if 
we were afraid of not arriving at exactly the same 


moment at the rendez-vous, as if we wished, with 
the harmonious precision of a well-rehearsed duet, to 
confess together some matchless certainty. 

We are happy, filled with astonishment. . . . But 
I am not deceived. 

I do not yet hold it, palpitating, for good and 
all, between my fingers, the proof that has been so 
long sought for. Not yet, this day, have I met 
face to face either God or the immortal soul. 

Only too well I know that some slight sound, some 
rhythm outside us, the beating of a bird's wing, the 
boring of an insect in the old wood of the furniture, 
the sigh of the wind under the door, that it is one 
of these things which has suddenly set our souls in 
tune, awakened the echoes of affinity in the abysses 
of our two separate selves. We have so many mem- 
ories in common, we have so carefully matched 
our tastes, we have so well unified our material 
world and tried to blend even our futures together 
that the very touch of the violinist's bow suffices to 
make us vibrate in harmony. 

But there must be the touch of the bow, there 
must be the perfume, so faint that one experiences 
its suggestions without being sure of its presence; 
perhaps there is necessary only one of those obscure 
phenomena which pass the limit of our senses in the 
twilight where our inadequate organs can only 
gropingly divine the world. 


This is 'our meager certainty. Very well ! Let 
us not reject it in our spite ; for it has its depth, its 
beauty. We must make it our own, force it to en- 
rich us./ 

Where the exercise of the intelligence seems to re- 
sult in the fatal imprisonment of the soul within 
itself, love enables us to see how the soul can reach 
beyond its own limits into time and space. In vain 
does the intelligence prove to us that all this is only 
an illusion. That illusion is beautiful; let us make 
up our minds to give it shape. Through its very 
longings to escape from its confines, the soul may 
perhaps succeed in breaking them, and it is to love 
without a doubt that it will owe the miracle of its 

We possess only an imperfect means of com- 
munion. So be it! Let us labor tenderly to per- 
fect that means. It is thus that the creators of sci- 
ence and industry labor, and we must admit that 
their stubbornness has succeeded in making a very 
great evil out of a small one. Let us not be less 
ingenious ! This sinister progress ought to give us 
encouragement: moral civilization deserves as much 
care as the other sort. 

With our brothers, our wives, our friends, let us 
freely seek to have so many things in common, let 
us strive so passionately to understand one another, 
that our thoughts, ceaselessly pressing toward this 


goal, may continually experience the sense of infin- 
ity and eternity. 

There lies our path; if it urges us to possess the 
largest portion we can of the human world, let us 
first begin by intimately possessing what we love. 
This possession I am sure is the only real one. 
They knew it very well, those desperate men who 
have loved fiercely the mere bodies of women with- 
out ever receiving the real gift that can be yielded 
in a glance, from a distance, with the swiftness of 


There are men who set out from their homes in 
the morning in the pursuit of wealth. They walk 
with their eyes on the pavement, they fling them- 
selves furiously into all sorts of petty labors. 
They dream of lost money, princely gifts, scan- 
dalous inheritances, lotteries. They think of gold 
as of an inaccessible woman whom they can strike 
down and ravish in a corner. They return home in 
the evening worn out, exasperated, famished, as 
poor as ever. They have not even seen the face of 
the man who sat next them in the subway. That face 
itself was a fortune. 

Do you seek out your friend because, on occasion, 
he can lend you the sum you foresee you are going 
to need, because he can speak to some cabinet of- 


ficial on your behalf, because he is a jovial host? 
If that is the case, you are a slave, you possess 
nothing. Do you, on the contrary, love him for 
that way of smiling he has that so delights you, for 
the candor and tenderness his hesitating voice be- 
trays, his gift of tears and his stormy repentances? 
If this is so, you are very rich: that man is yours 
and he is a treasure worth having. 

Can you recall the use you made of your first five- 
franc piece? Most assuredly not! But you will 
never forget a certain expression which, in your 
eyes, distorted or made more beautiful some well- 
loved face when you were a little child. That has, 
and always will have, a place among your treasures : 
that day you really learned something of impor- 
tance, and you have never ceased since to recall the 
victory and turn it to account. 

If you have little inclination to squander your 
fortune, what is to prevent you from assembling it 
under one title-deed? A single face, a single soul, is 
yet an inestimable estate. One may believe one has 
exhausted all one's resources, but one is always de- 
ceived, for like the earth, the human landscape is 
always perpetually laboring and bears fruit every 

The peasant who possesses only an acre is full of 
pride nevertheless, for he knows that his possession 
goes down to the very center of the earth. 



For many years I have watched the same face, like 
the faithful horizon stretched across the aperture of 
a window. It contrives, that face, a thousand 
things, it expresses and reflects a thousand things, 
I alone know its touching beauty, since I alone am 
able to reap all its harvests, since I alone cannot, 
without a glance, allow the tiniest flower of every 
day to die. 


It is not wholly within your power to be without 
enemies ; it behooves you, indeed, not to lack adver- 
saries. Above all, it behooves you to know your 
adversaries. From that to conquering them is but 
a short step. From that to loving them is no step 
at all. 

Do not dread an experience too much; consider 
your adversary attentively and try to imagine his 
motives, those that he declares as well as those that 
he conceals, those that he invents as well as those of 
which he is ignorant. Think long enough and with 
enough intensity to understand these reasons, and 
even to discover new ones of which your adversary 
has not thought; this will not be difficult for you if 
you have any knowledge of yourself. 

Then make a strong effort to put yourself, in 
spirit, in the place of him you are combatting. Do 
not go so far as to detest yourself, but do not re- 


fuse this opportunity of judging yourself severely. 
For a test: perhaps you have entered upon this ex- 
perience with your teeth and fists clenched; stop 
when you find that you are smiling and that your 
hands are relaxed. 

One has no idea how much this exercise inclines 
one to justice, how profitable it is and how destruc- 
tive of hatred. Too much imagination would per- 
haps lead you to neglect your own cause; stop in 
time, therefore, unless you wish to become, as the 
spectators may decide, either a fool or a hero. 

For my part, I have no hesitation in counselling 
such a practice: it teaches one to conquer, to con- 
quer smilingly. It teaches one to know one's adver- 
sary. And then, too, it is good as everything is 
good that forestalls and destroys hatred. 

There is only one single thing in the world that is, 
perhaps, really hateful, stupidity. But even that 
is disputable, and moreover it is always a pre- 
sumptuous assertion. 

Happy is the man who has no enemies. But, I 
repeat, he who has no adversaries, he who has not 
accepted those that life offers him, or has not been 
able to procure any of his own will, is ignorant of a 
great source of wealth. 

There is but small merit in understanding those 
whom we love; there is a great, a crowningly bitter 
pleasure, in penetrating a soul that is hostile to us, 


in making it our own by main force, in colonizing it. 

Not to choose our friends, that is to be too self- 
denying, too modest. Not to choose our adver- 
saries, that is altogether too stupid; it is inexcus- 

A voice whispers in my ear : " We do not choose 
our vermin, we do not choose our mad dogs. . . ." 
Alas, no! but that is quite another matter. 


Every time I hear someone use the word " pro- 
miscuity," I recall an experience I once had. An 
experience, that is a great deal to say, it was such 
a slight affair after all. 

It was in the days when there still used to be in 
Paris those omnibuses with upper stories. I was re- 
turning home quite late, on one of those fresh, airy 
nights when one suddenly draws in, through the 
fetid breath of the streets, a gust that comes from 
afar and seems unwilling to let itself be defiled, ob- 
literated. I was dreaming all alone, quite to myself, 
about things of no interest to anyone but myself, 
but that happily filled the infinite space of the 

Through the depths of this reverie I became 
aware of a slight, muffled blow against my right 
shoulder. This did not rouse me from my own 
absorption. A second time the blow came, followed 


by a soft, continuous contact. It gave me a dis- 
agreeable sensation. 

By my side there was a young boy of sixteen or 
seventeen, dressed like an apprentice. The uncer- 
tain glimmer of the street-lamps lighted up his pale, 
weary face. His eyes were closed and he seemed 
overwhelmed with sleep. I noticed that every few 
moments his head, swaying with the jolts of the 
vehicle, would strike against my shoulder. He 
would raise it up with an instinctive movement, only 
to let it fall back the more heavily the next moment. 
Once he let it lie there. At the time I was so lost in 
my dreams that the animal in me alone rose to its 
defense: I pushed the young lad gently back into his 
place. It was trouble lost ; the next second he aban- 
doned himself anew against my shoulder with a sort 
of desperate ingenuousness. I pushed him back two 
or three times, then I gave it up and tried, in spite 
of this slight burden, to continue my glorious excur- 
sion in the interior of my own self. 

But I did not succeed. An extraordinary, un- 
foreseen, unknown sensation was sweeping over me. 
It was a penetrating animal warmth. It came from 
that head propped against my shoulder, and also 
from a certain frai], bent arm which I felt slowly 
digging into my side. The little apprentice was 
sound asleep. 

I bent down my face and felt his breath like that 


of a child passing in little puffs over my cheek and 
my chin. From that moment on, I ceased com- 
pletely to think of my important personal affairs 
and I had only one anxiety : to see to it that the boy 
did not awaken. 

I do not know how long this sleep lasted: I was 
warm with a strange, delicate warmth; I had a sense 
of well-being, I was absorbed, I was penetrating into 
an unknown universe, as vast, as starry as my own. 
I could not understand how this contact could have 
offended me at first, even disgusted me. I had torn 
off the prickly shell and was tasting, like a nourish- 
ing kernel, that human presence and companionship. 
I was happy and interested. 

We reached a place where there were shouts and 
lights. The little fellow sat up with a start, rubbed 
his eyes and ran stumbling towards the stairway 
and disappeared ; he had not even seen me. 

He did not know what I owed him and that he 
would never be forgotten. 


One must not, at first sight, say that a man is un- 
interesting and that his face is expressionless. One 
might as well say that the water of a river is empty 
when it swarms with vegetable and animal life. 

In one's manner of listening to a man there may 
be prejudice and suspicion, there must not be indif- 


ference or indolence. The soul has, in its arsenal, 
lenses, microscopes, and powerful sources of light 
for exploring objects to their depths, through their 
transparencies, into the innermost recesses of their 

At the beginning of the war I lived for two years 
with a comrade who was invariably silent and indo- 
lent ; his handsome face remained always so gloomy, 
his actions remained so devoid of purpose and sig- 
nificance, that I despaired of ever making him my 
prey; I was simply never touched with a desire to 
get hold of him. 

Then a day came when I heard him greet some 
happening with a word, pronounced in such a chal- 
lenging tone that I decided to undertake the expe- 
dition. I spent days and days at it, with the pick- 
axe, mattock, and little lantern of the miner. I 
have thought of him ever since with stupefaction, as 
of those subterranean, half-explored chasms where 
one finds rivers, colonnades, domes, blind animals 
and terrible shapes of stone. 

The nature of the object should not discourage 
one's interest. The viper is a dangerous and vindic- 
tive creature. The naturalists who have been able 
to study it have only been able to do so because they 
have studied with passion, that is to say, with love. 

So much to tell you that that sort of zoological 
curiosity you may bring to the study of your neigh- 


bor no more authorizes cruelty than it allows you 
to dispense with affection. 

Extreme attention resembles affection. Contem- 
plation is pure love. 

It is after my own taste that I mean to enjoy my 

First, I wish to have part possession of my com- 
panions. There is no question of my being the only 
one to possess them, or of my limiting my empire to 
one or two of them. What I plan is to undertake 
each conquest separately. This word, we shall see, 
does not signify seduction, but a knowledge that is 
full of respect, a profound, lasting interest, an en- 
thusiasm, a passionate contemplation. 

Observe them, your comrades: say you have 
twenty-three of them; you will find through them 
twenty-three distinct representations of yourself, 
and that in spite of yourself, through the mere 
play of everyday life. One of them knows 
chiefly your tireless patience ; another, who works 
beside you all day, knows that you are pains- 
taking and irritable; he is, however, ignorant 
of what a third, the friend of your fireside, knows, 
that you arc a careful and anxious father. There 
are others for whom you are, above all, a soul torn 
by religion or a mind familiar with everything that 


concerns social questions, or a great lover of read- 
ing. Others, finally, see in you only a good billiard- 
player, or a crack shot, or a courteous companion. 

You are, of course, all these things. The total- 
ity of these various aspects is, indeed, you, pro- 
vided that we add also many other qualities that no 
one suspects. But each one of your comrades sees 
an aspect of you that is different from what his 
neighbor sees. For this reason, avoid confusion, 
avoid mixing things. Be lavish of yourself in every 
sense, but begin by being prudent, careful of your 
resources and skilful in the art of grouping them. 

One day you were having an affectionate conver- 
sation with Maurin. You were delighted with one 
another, delighted to be together, satisfied with your 
fellowship, your mutual possession. You were not 
talking of anything very private. But then Bleche 
came up, Bleche with whom you have such profit- 
able, such intimate talks, and all the charm of 
Maurin's company disappeared without your being 
able to compensate yourself with the usual pleasure 
you take in the society of Bleche. This was be- 
cause, in the presence of both, you could not give 
each one what you are accustomed to give him, nor 
could you ask from him what he gives only to you. 

These combinations, like those of the chemists, 
demand much care and judgment. Don't protest! 


Don't exclaim that such notions are too subtle, too 
complex: you do not receive all your friends pell- 
mell. However much of an epicure you may be, you 
still give more attention to the selection of your 
guests than to the composition of the menu. Of 
what importance is the most delicate fare in com- 
parison with the delight the conversation of care- 
fully chosen human beings gives us? 

That is why, when you are sure of two persons for 
whom you feel an interest that borders on passion, 
you experience such a delicious anxiety at the mo- 
ment of presenting them to one another, of bringing 
them together in your presence. 

You are like the maker of fireworks who is about 
to mix changeable substances with explosive proper- 
ties in his mortar. You weigh them carefully and 
combine them in well-defined proportions. You 
take time preparing each of the spiritual elements of 
this mixture. 

And when the union is accomplished, you seem to 
be saying to each of them : " I have prepared a 
magnificent gift for you. Come, now, and know 
one another." 

Your heart throbs, because eacli of them is not 
only going to know the other but is going to learn to 
know you through the eyes of the other. 

Could there be a better reason for living? 



However brief may be the intercourse we have 
with a man, we always come away from it somewhat 
modified : we find we are a little greater than we were 
before, or a little less great, better or worse, exalted 
or diminished. 

I have learned this from having, in the course of 
my life, approached many men, both famous and ob- 
scure, who do not dream what I owe them or the 
harm they have been able to do me. 

We instinctively recognize and classify indi- 
viduals according to this faculty they have, some 
of drawing us out, others of crushing us. It is a 
faculty they usually exert without knowing it, even 
against their will: they are tonic or depressing just 
as one is short or tall, just as one has black eyes or 
green. But the comparison breaks down in this 
respect, that it is always possible to modify the 
reaction we produce on others. 

In this matter we exhibit a special sensibility that 
may be compared to the tropisms which push plants 
up toward the light or make them struggle against 
gravitation. We go toward some and flee from 
others, regardless of our interests or our preju- 

The man whose companionship we seek because it 
stimulates us is not necessarily he who strives to give 


us a good opinion of ourselves. Often he is taci- 
turn, sometimes surly, occasionally ironical and cut- 
ting. Nevertheless, there emanates from his whole 
person something like approbation, a confession of 
confidence. Even if he insists, harshly, noisily, 
upon calling attention to our faults, he does not 
make us despair of ourselves and our future. And 
if he never speaks to us about ourselves we yet know, 
by some imperceptible gesture, by some tone in his 
voice, by a gleam in his eye, that he is interested in 

Every time we leave him we like him better, we like 
ourselves better, we like all humanity better, we look 
at everything with a smile, we are as full of plans as 
a tree in April. 

The other sort of man, on the contrary, is forever 
deluding himself. He pursues before our very eyes 
an end which we see, with grief and bitterness, he 
regularly fails to attain. Whatever he does, what- 
ever he says, he always shows us that he is a 
stranger to us, that he is superior and that we do 
not interest him. Even in his manner of wishing to 
give us his attention, he exhibits a certain difficulty 
in seeing us at all. If he tries to seem talkative, 
important, majestic, his natural gifts turn against 
him ; his cordiality disgusts us, his bearing irritates 
us, his self-importance makes us want to laugh. We 
cannot forgive him anything, and especially the fact 


that we always leave him with the same vague de- 
pression, the same disgust of life, and the same dis- 
trust of our own undertakings. What we are always 
escapes him, and although what he is does not 
escape us, we are discouraged by him all the same. 

We must be the first of these two men, he who is, 
amid all things, in spite of all things, a rich man, he 
whom the poet of the Livre d' amour justly called 
" a conqueror." 


You must not violate your gifts, you must simply 
study their possibilities. It is what we do with 
trees -and animals in which we are able to instil vir- 
tues they do not seem to possess at all naturally. 

However humble your position in society may be, 
however great your poverty, in the crude sense men 
give to this word, you may none the less become rich 
and successful without so much as leaving the room 
where you are in conversation with your comrade, 
your wife or your favorite adversary. Find your 
study there. You have observed that when two men 
meet they begin by sacrificing to the old custom of 
enquiring briefly about one another's health and 
affairs, after which, without waiting for the other's 
reply, each one begins to speak of himself. This is 
such an old usage that they do not even know they 
are doing it. Each one speaks of himself for a few 


moments, then allows the other to talk about hjm- 
self for about the same length of time. When this 
has gone on long enough they separate, and each 
preserves for his partner a vague feeling of grati- 
tude, not so much because he has listened as because 
he has made a pretense of listening to matters that 
were of no concern to him. 

This fact suggests a great lesson. The majority 
of men suffer from a sort of neglect, they suffer 
from not being possessed by anyone, from offering 
themselves in vain. Stretch out your hand and 
seize them. Learn to say the word that will assure 
you the mastery, the domination. 

It is inconceivable that so many spirits, tormented 
by the need for power, by the passion for authority, 
should waste and sterilize themselves in order to 
hoard money, win rank, obtain a title. They gain 
nothing from it but a pride that withers them; they 
clasp only the shadow of what they pursue. 

Seek a little and you will soon find that they are 
legion who ask nothing better than to cast them- 
selves into your nets. Do not believe that they are 
always the mediocre victims. It is not only the 
wretched who wish to be understood and consoled. 
There are many sceptics who await with anguish the 
touch of a hand to deliver them from their scepti- 
cism. There are many happy men, too, who can- 
not bear to be alone with their happiness, for man 


has even more need of help in joy than in sorrow. 

It has often happened, while walking with a com- 
rade, a stranger or an adversary, that I would find 
him hard, defiant, rebellious at every touch. 
Thereupon, I would set out openly, under his very 
eye, to capture him. I would begin to speak to him 
about himself. I would say to him : " The unique 
things about you are . . ." And I would confide 
to him everything I thought about him, being par- 
ticularly careful to say nothing more about myself. 
I would interest myself in him, not fictitiously - 
that is a barren and a perilous game but with all 
my heart, with all my intelligence. I would tell him 
what I knew, what I already possessed of him, his 
virtues and his faults. Confused or irritated, he 
would come to my feet, he would appear as if be- 
fore a bar to give thanks or to plead, to show his 
claws or to purr. The things I had said to him 
might be very severe; I still felt that he was grate- 
ful to me for having cared about him, even in order 
to attack him. No longer was he in any haste to 
leave me. Often he would come back on the days 
that followed and make me unexpected visits ; 
though I could see that he was provoked, I knew 
nevertheless that he had come to pay homage, to 
attest that he was a faithful subject. 

" The unique things about you are" . . . That 
is a chance phrase. There are others, there are a 


thousand of them. When you are ready, a grip of 
the hand or some other human sign may take its 
place. I remember the story of a certain prefect 
who, having no worse enemy than a traitor in his 
department, had the happy thought one day of ask- 
ing him to have a drink and going away without 
paying for it. This extraordinary proof of confi- 
dence attached the man to him forever. 

Not that all your victims will be so tremblingly 
easy. There are proud souls who set a high price 
on their conquest, fantastic and sick souls whom one 
has to seize suddenly and overthrow almost before 
they are aware of it. 

You must set the time and choose the hour of the 

Do not accost the business man in the roar of the 
Exchange; attempt the field rather at the hour 
when, wearied, he is counting over and reckoning 
his disillusionmcnts. Do not seize the man of action 
on the battlefield, but in the moment of leisure when 
he does not know what to do with his solitude. 

What marvelous opportunities must the shy Las 
Casas have glimpsed at Saint Helena, even though 
he was pursuing other aims ! 

I once saw a simple soul publicly congratulate a 
master surgeon whose skill had for long years placed 
him above all felicitations. And the celebrated man 
blushed, bowed, gave in. 


A successful lawyer said to me one day : " Each 
one of my clients imagines that I think only of him, 
that I occupy myself exclusively with him." 

Remember, too, that certain women never capitu- 
late twice: they never forgive themselves for having 
yielded completely even for a moment. The same 
thing is true with others who are offended with you 
because you have " taken " them by force. Do not 
regret this sacrifice too much: it leaves a beautiful 
jewel in your casket. 

Truly the whole vast race of men belongs to you. 

Take and eat, you cannot find more noble food. 

See, there is the world you must conquer. It is 
not that for whose possession proud peoples are 
driven to declare war; it is indeed quite another 
world than that which Satan showed Jesus from the 
summit of the mountain. 


THE world contains not one single object that 
might not be a source of happiness. Sorrow 
springs from this, that man outdoes himself in mis- 
using everything. He turns against his own body 
or his own spirit all sorts of things that seem well 
made for his joy. 

Every being contains an unbelievable store of 
happiness, and this one virtue reveals the angle 
from which he ought to be judged. 

Your true business man makes a practice of 
weighing everything in terms of gold: a human be- 
ing, a field of wheat, a beam, a precious stone. His 
tables of value are false, but the principle of valua- 
tion remains none the less efficacious, fundamental. 
The mistake of these persons is in testing everything 
by a single measure, in reducing everything to this 
gold which enables them to seek their chosen pleasure. 
If it is drink, or woman, they transmute an orchard 

into wine or into women, losing terribly by the ex- 



change. They thus produce a sort of analogy to 
what the physicists call the degradation of energy: 
little by little, the traffickers degrade their pleas- 
ures until they obtain those they prefer. But hap- 
piness is higher than this : it cannot be degraded, 
bought, transmuted. It is a pure relationship be- 
tween the soul and the world. It will never be the 
mere object of a transaction. Many are the men 
who have fastened their hope, their future upon the 
acquisition of some material good only to experi- 
ence after years of effort and privation a burning 
disillusion. That is because happiness is too proud 
and free a thing to obey the commands of merchants. 
It follows laws of its own that seem like inspirations, 
it does not come at the bidding of business men. 
The castle we have coveted so long may open at 
the appointed hour; joy will not take up its abode 
there unless we have deserved it. 

It must be repeated again : the principle of evalua- 
tion is at the base of our moral life. But each thing 
should be valued in itself and for itself. 

A tuft of violets is worth a great deal for its per- 
fume and its beauty, it can bring joy or consolation 
to a great many hearts. But it has only the slightest 
commercial value; estimated in terms of building 
lumber or freestone it signifies nothing, or virtually 

That so many men should cut and sell wood, shape 


and barter the stone of which our houses are built, 
go gathering violets through the May thickets to 
sell them to townsfolk, is undoubtedly right and nec- 
essary. The real question is quite a different one: 
we must first possess for their own sakes all the 
blessings that are offered us, and not obstinately 
transform them, without an important reason, be- 
yond our strict needs, at the risk of forever losing 
our understanding and our true possession of them. 

It is almost a truism that men who are obliged 
by their profession to handle, store or sell substances 
famous for their power of giving pleasure, perfumes, 
fruits, silks, end by losing all appreciation of them 
and even by contracting a disgust and contempt for 
them. Cooks have no appetite. Let us not be 
cooks, then, in the presence of this vast world ; let 
us know how to preserve or restore to eacli object 
its original savor and significance. 

I say " restore " intentionally, for the world seems 
to be more and more turning from its true sense, that 
is to say, its human sense, the only one for us. 

A stone is a beautiful thing, beautiful from all 
points of view; its grain, its color, its brilliancy* its 
hardness are all so many virtues that exercise and 
satisfy our senses, excite our reflections. We have 
a thousand noble uses, speculative or practical, to 
which we can put such an object. We shall be the 
kings of the universe if we assert boldly that we 


find in these uses and in our joy the very destiny of 
the stone. 

I remember seeing hills that had been disem- 
boweled by a bombardment and were sown with long 
splinters of twisted iron; the base of a monstrous 
shell appeared before me, one day, under these con- 
ditions, and it seemed to me truly inhuman, this 
product of the work of men: the noble metal, with 
which so many good and beautiful things can be 
made, took on a hateful appearance. Man had 
achieved the mournful miracle of denaturing nature, 
rendering it ignoble and criminal. 

Truly, we are equally guilty every time we turn 
an object aside from its mission, which is altogether 
one of happiness. We are guilty again every time 
we fail to extract, for others and for ourselves, all 
the happiness an object holds in store and only asks 
to be allowed to yield. 


It is because every fragment of the earth is a 
source of happiness that men ceaselessly dream of 
winning that source for their own profit. 

They do not wish to have all humanity refresh 
itself, plunge its feverish face and lips in the cool 

Once the springs were the delight and the wealth 
of whole peoples ; they were conducted magnificently 


along majestically proportioned aqueducts; their 
liquid opulence, crossing valleys and mountains, en- 
tered the cities with a great outburst of architec- 
tural joy; it shone and sparkled in the sunlight from 
a thousand embellished apertures before it went to 
bathe and nourish the people. 

The statues of the gods watched over this treas- 

Today, the most beautiful springs are guarded 
by railings ; one goes to a wicket and pays in order 
to drink there. 

In the same way, all the springs of joy seem to 
have been sequestered for the profit of a few people. 

This is not always for the sake of gain. In most 
cases it is simply for exclusiveness. The man who 
owns something capable of giving joy naively 
imagines that he will be happier if he is the only 
one to drink from this inexhaustible breast. He be- 
comes infatuated with it and thinks of nothing but 
how to shut up his treasure. He puts up a wall and 
provides it with fragments of sharp glass, so that 
the wall may show its teeth, so that it may be not 
only defensive but, in some sense, offensive. At 
times, yawning with ennui in the very midst of his 
material prosperity, he makes an opening in the wall, 
only to correct thia imprudence with a ditch; and 
from behind this he seems to say, " Now see how 
rich I am; look and proclaim it in a loud voice, you 


who pass by, for I am beginning not to be so sure 
of it myself." 

To shut up a picture, a beautiful tree, a sumptuous 
tapestry for one's own exclusive benefit is, after all, 
only a trifling folly ; but there are some who under- 
take to capture a river, a mountain, a horizon, the 

A few years ago, I visited the shore of the Mediter- 
ranean, between Cannes and Menton. I was struck 
by a strange thing: the road that follows the edge 
of the sea, at the foot of the hills, through a thousand 
natural beauties, continually loses sight of the waves ; 
it seems as if pushed back, held aside. 

People have appropriated the horizon ; they have 
driven their fortune like a wedge between the divine 
sea and the road of the common folk. They wish to 
be the only ones to possess the ocean, dawn, the gold 
and sapphire of moon, the tempests and the 
thunders of the open sea. 

Do not be alarmed, mistaken brothers, do not 
tremble; we shall not throw down your walls. Live 
in peace in your sumptuous prison, our portion re- 
mains so beautiful and so great that we shall never 
exhaust it. 

Close your gates, you will not shut in the perfume 
of your shrubbery, nor all the wind, nor all the sky. 
You will not imprison the fragrant odor of your 
flower-beds. We shall breathe them, as we pass, lov- 


ingly, and continue on our way. We shall go on 
still further, for we have many things to acquaint 
ourselves with, we divine so many, many of them 
that a whole life is short in the light of such a des- 
tiny. But if it pleases you to join our vagabond 
company .you will discover, perhaps, the other side of 
your own walls, which are hung with flax-weed and 
wild geranium. The road that skirts them outside 
leads to joy also. 

And besides, one does not find these ingenuous 
walls everywhere. The greed of men has not yet 
subjected all the beauty of things. You have 
snatched up in your fingers a fleeting draught of 
water: the ocean does not seem to be aware of it. 

You must understand that we really possess noth- 
ing by ourselves. Veil, if you wish, the faces of 
your women and visit every day the gold in the 
depths of your vaults. * Exclusiveness yields you no 
wealth save that which is dead and unproductive. 

But he is truly rich for whom life is a perpetual 


Discovery ! It seems as if this word were one of a 
cluster of magic keys, one of those keys that make all 
doors open before our feet. We know that to pos- 
sess is to understand, to comprehend. That, in a 
supreme sense, is what discovery means. 


To understand the world can well be compared 
to the peaceful, enduring wealth of the great land- 
owner; to make discoveries is, in addition to this, 
to come into sudden, overflowing riches, to have one 
of those sudden strokes of fortune which double a 
man's capital by a windfall that seems like an in- 

The life of a child who grows up unconstrainedly 
is a chain of discoveries, an enriching of each mo- 
ment, a succession of dazzling surprises. 

I cannot go on without thinking of the beautiful 
letter I received today about my little boy; it said: 
" Your son knows how to find extraordinary riches, 
inexhaustible treasures, even in the barrenest fields, 
and when I set him on the grass, I cannot guess the 
things he is going to bring out of it. He has an 
admirable appreciation of the different kinds of soil ; 
if he finds sand he rolls in it, buries himself in it, 
grabs up handfuls and flings them delightedly over 
his hair. Yesterday he discovered a molehole, and 
you cannot imagine all the pleasure he took in it. 
He also knows the joys of a slope which one can 
descend on one's feet, or head over heels, or by roll- 
ing, and which is also splendid for somersaults. 
Every rise of ground interests him, and I wish you 
could see him pushing his cart up them. There is a 
little ditch where on the edge he likes to lie with his 
feet at the bottom and his body pressed tight against 


the slope. He played interminably, the other day, 
on top of a big stone; he kept stroking it, he had 
truly found a new pleasure there. And as for me, 
I find my wealth in watching him discover all these 

It is thus a child of fifteen months gives man les- 
sons in appreciation. 

Unfortunately, most systems of education do their 
best to substitute hackneyed phrases for the sense of 
discovery. A series of conventions are imposed on 
the child ; he ceases to discover and experience the 
objects in the world in pinning them down with dry, 
formal labels by the help of which he can recognize 
them. He reduces his moral life little by little to 
the dull routine of classifying pins and pegs, and in 
this fashion begins the journey to maturity. 

Discover ! You must discover in order to be rich ! 
You must not be satisfied to accept the night good- 
humorcdly, to go to sleep after a day empty of all 
discovery. There are no small victories, no neg- 
ligible discoveries: if you bring back from your 
day's journey the memory of the white cloud of 
pollen the ripe plantain lets fall, in May, at the 
stroke of your switch, it may be little, but your day 
is not lost. If you have only encountered on the 
road the tiny urn of jade which the moss delightedly 
balances at the end of its frail stem, it may seem 
little, but be patient ! Tomorrow will perhaps be 


more fruitful. If for the first time you have seen a 
swarm of bees go by in search of a hive, or heard the 
snapping pods of the broom scattering its seeds in 
the heat, you have nothing to complain of, and life 
ought to seem beautiful to you. If, on that same 
day, you have also enriched your collection of hu- 
manity with a beautiful or an interesting face, con- 
fess that you will go to sleep upon a treasure. 


There will be days when you will be like a peaceful 
sovereign seated under a tree: the whole world will 
come to render homage to you and bring you tribute. 
Those will be your days of contemplation. 

There will be days when you will have to take your 
staff and wallet and go and seek your living along 
the highways. On these days you must be contented 
with what you gain from observing, from hunting; 
have no fear : it will be beautiful. 

It is sweet to receive ; it is thrilling to take. You 
must, by turns, charm and compel the universe. 
When you have gazed long at the tawny rock, with 
its lichens, its velvety mosses, it is most amusing to 
lift it up: then you will discover its weight and the 
little nest of orange-bellied salamanders that live 
there in the cool. 

You have only to lie among the hairy mints and 
the horse-tails to admire the religious dance of the 


dragon-fly going to lay its eggs in the brook, or to 
hear in early June the clamorous orgy of the tree- 
toads, drunk with love; and it is very pleasant, too, 
to dip one's hands in the water, to stir the gravel at 
the bottom, whence bubble up a thousand tiny, agile 
existences, or to pick the fleshy stalk of the water-lily 
that lifts its tall head out of the depths. 

There are people who have passed a plant a thou- 
sand times without ever thinking of picking one of its 
leaves and rubbing it between their fingers. Do this 
always and you will discover hundreds of new per- 
fumes. Each of these perfumes may seem quite in- 
significant, and yet when you have breathed it once, 
you wish to breathe it again ; you think of it often, 
and something has been added to you. 

It is an unending game and it resembles love, this 
possession of a world that now yields itself, now 
conceals itself. It is a serious, a divine game. 

Marcus Aurelius, whose philosophy cannot be 
called futile, does not hesitate, amid many austere 
counsels, to urge his friends to the contemplation 
of those natural spectacles that are always so rich 
in meaning and suggestion : " Everything that comes 
forth from the works of nature," he writes, " has its 
grace and beauty. The face wrinkles in middle age, 
the very ripe olive is almost decomposed, but the 
fruit has, for all that, a unique beauty. The bend- 
ing of the corn toward the earth, the bushy brows 


of the lion, the foam that drips from the mouth of 
the wild boar and many other things, considered 
by themselves, are far from being beautiful ; never- 
theless, since they are accessory to the works of 
nature, they embellish them and add a certain charm. 
Thus a man who has a sensitive soul, and who is ca- 
pable of deep reflection, will see, in whatever exists 
in the world, hardly anything that is not pleasant in 
his eyes, since it is related, in some way, to the 
totality of things." 

This philosopher is right as the poets are right. 
As our days permit us, let us reflect and observe, let 
us never cease to see in each fragment of the great 
whole a pure source of happiness. Like children 
drawn into a marvelous dance, let us not relax our 
hold upon the hand that sustains us and directs us. 

Chalifour was a locksmith. I knew him in my 
childhood. You would have said that he was just a 
simple country laborer. Why has he left the memory 
of a rich and powerful man? His image will always 
be for me that of the " master of metals." 

He worked in a mean, encumbered room, full of the 
pungent, acrid odor of the forge, which seemed to 
me a sort of annex to those other underground 
vaults that used to be peopled by the earth-spirits. 

How I loved to see him, with his little apron of 


blackened leather ! He would seize a bar of iron and 
this iron at once became his. He had his own way 
of handling the object of his labor that was full of 
love and authority. His gnarled hands touched 
everything with a mixture of respect and daring; I 
used to admire them as if they were the somber 
workmen of some sovereign power. 

It seemed as if some pact had been made between 
Chalifour and the hard metal, which gave the man 
complete mastery over the material. One might 
have thought that solemn vows had been exchanged. 

I see him again with his pensive air working the 
panting bellows and watching the metal whose in- 
candescence was almost transparent. I see him at 
the anvil : the hammer, handled forcefully, delicately, 
obeying like a subject demon. I see him before the 
drill, starting the great wheel, following the meas- 
urged exigencies of a ceremonial rite. Especially I 
see him before the smoky window with its pale flood 
of light, surveying, with that fine smile under his 
white beard, the conquered piece of metal, the crea- 
ture of his will, which he had charged with des- 

O ancient laborer, great, simple man, how rich and 
enviable you were, you who aspired to just one thing: 
to do wi 11 you were doinp-, to possess intimately 
the object of your toil! No one better than you 
has understood the ponderous, obedient iron, no one 


than you has worked it with greater love and con- 

Somewhere there exists, I believe, an unhappy man 
eaten up with nerves and stomach-disorder. He 
lives crouched up against his telephone, and sends 
his orders to all the stock exchanges of the world. 
People call him the " iron king," for some reason that 
has to do with finance. I don't believe he has ever 
touched or weighed a morsel of real iron. Let us 
smile, Chalifour! Let us smile, my master! 


I should like to tell you about Bernier, too. They 
say he is a very poor man because his coat is all 
shiny from wear and his shoes have the weary, 
wretched look of things that have never been young, 
because the sweat of many summers has soaked and 
stained the ribbon of his hat and his baggy trousers 
give him the air of always kneeling. 

Bernier has a poor little drooping moustache with 
nothing glorious about it. You know only too well 
that he earns a hundred and twenty francs a month 
in some government bureau and that people say of 
him, " He 's a poor devil with a miserable job." 

As for me, I know that Bernier is rich, and I have 
seen him smile in the hour of his wealth, for the 
true wealth has its times of slumber and its awaken- 
ings. Bernier possesses something which is quite 


strange and almost inexpressible; it is a space, a 
white space, vast and virgin, and it is his power to 
be able to trace there certain harmonious lines which 
he alone knows how to trace in the right way. 

Why have you never seen, why have you never been 
able to see Bernier at the moment when he begins his 
work, when the whole sickly light of the office seems 
concentrated on the beautiful white page? His face 
is serene, smiling, assured. He half closes his eyes 
and draws back his head ; he holds, adroitly and 
elegantly, a certain chosen pen, flexible, with a good 
point, a pen that belongs to him alone, which he has 
prepared for himself and which he would throw 
away if some blundering fool happened to touch it. 
And then he begins ! 

His kingdom is ranged all about him: ink pure 
from all dust, a brightly lined ruler, a collection of 
pens with all sorts of points. He begins, and the 
black line obeys him, springs up, curves in, stops, 
bounds forward or falls back, prances, yields. Look 
at Bernier's face: is it really the face of that poor 
wretch you have just described to me? No! No! 
It is the face of a masterful man, calm, sure of him- 
self and his wealth, who is doing something that 
no one can do as well as he : across a snowy, limitless 
desert he directs, as if in a dream, a black line that 
advances, advances, now slowly, now dizzily, like 
time itself. 



You are willing to pay ten francs to see an acrobat 
or a trained dog. Perhaps you have never watched 
a spider about to prepare its web. In that case, do 
not miss the spectacle at the very next opportunity. 
When you have had a good glimpse of the extraor- 
dinary creature revolving about the center of the 
work and fastening, with its hind leg, so quickly 
and accurately, the thread that it unwinds in just 
the right quantity, you will be so delighted that you 
will want to show the marvel to all those you love. 

It is strange what a contempt men have for the 
joys that are offered them freely. And yet this does 
not argue a shallowness in our natures : there is a cer- 
tain beauty in our prizing an object just because 
it has cost us some trouble. You must not imagine, 
however, that the marvels of nature come for noth- 
ing: they cost patience, time and attention. 

An unhealthy curiosity and the taste for anom- 
alies incline us to take pleasure in seeing a creature 
perform an action for which its own organism seems 
unsuited. It palls very quickly. For a long time 
now, for example, the flight of aviators has ceased 
to excite our interest : we know all about that unmys- 
terious machine ; its very sound and its presence in 
the sky defile the silence and the space whose vir- 
ginity was a refuge for us. On the other hand, I 


assure you I never cease to be fascinated by the 
mysterious maneuvers of a swarm of gnats, their 
interweaving curves, the spherical movement which, 
from instant to instant, transports the whole group 
of insects and seems the result of some secret pass- 
word, and so many other subtle and profound mys- 
teries that remain, for the imagination, full of al- 
lurement, full, one might say, of resources. 

And do you think there is nothing disturbing in 
the beauty of the imperious flight of the great 
dragon-fly, in its sudden, meditative pauses, in its 
peremptory starts that lash the air like a supple, 
furious whip? 

To whatever school of philosophy they belong, the 
great observers of natural phenomena, the Darwins, 
Lamarcks, Fabres, give us a magnificent lesson in 
love. But why do we nourish ourselves only on their 
harvests instead of providing our own? Why do 
we buy and read their books without drawing any 
real profit from them, without ever taking the trouble 
to look down at our own feet, without ever going to 
live, with the creatures of the sand and the grass, 
their minute, thrilling existence, in which everything 
would be for us full of novelty, discovery, sugges- 
tion ? 

VI 1 1 

The world is so generous and I feel my heart so 
full, so overflowing, that I do not even dream of 


arranging in order all these things I have to say to 
you. I should wish first of all to see your brow 
relax, to hear you say that you are less dispirited 
and that you refuse to be bored. 

I should like to know all of you, and each in 
particular, to take you by the arm and walk with 
you through one of the streets of your town, or 
along the highroad if you live in the country. You 
would tell me of your cares and we should search 
together and see if there is indeed nothing in the uni- 
verse for which you are especially destined, if there 
does not indeed exist, all ready for your wound, 
the precise balm that is necessary to anoint and 
heal it. 

I came out this morning from my shelter of planks. 
The barren, chalky soil that surrounds it is surely 
the most sterile in all Champagne, but it had rained 
and the storm had brought up out of this miserable 
soil, which is almost without vegetation, all sorts of 
kindly odors. They were worth more than all the 
perfumes of Florida, for they were the humble gift 
of poverty. 

At the end of next February I could show you, 
some morning, if the sun were out, the color of the 
birches against the blue of the winter sky. All the 
slender branches will seem ablaze with purple fire, 
and the sky, through this delicate flame, will survey 
you with an exquisite tenderness. You must wait, 


you must drink it in deeply, and not go on your way 
before you have understood it. From it you will 
be able to store up enough happiness to last you 
till another winter comes and gives birth once more 
to this prodigy of light. ^ 

Last year, during the hard summer months on the 
Aisne, I used to escape each day, for a second, 
toward the end of the afternoon, from the overheated 
tent where we carried on the bloody work of the 
ambulance. One of my comrades was in the habit 
of eating an apple at this hour. I used to ask him 
to be good enough to lend it to me for a moment. 
I loved to breathe its delicate, penetrating perfume 
which, every day, changed with the fruit. That was 
indeed a rare, a beautiful moment amid the fatigues 
of that concert of suffering and death. 

I requisitioned this imponderable part of another's 
wealth; then I returned the apple to my comrade. I 
could have wished that you had all been with me to 
taste that poignant little joy. 

When peace comes again, if you wish to see me 
in May, I will take you out under the great sycamore 
that is turning green at the bottom of the meadow. 
And there as you listen to the flying, the humming, 
the loving and the living of the millions of creatures 
that people its cool foliage, we shall set out together 
on a journey so rare that you will leave your heaviest 
sorrows along the way. 



Some years ago, a magazine undertook to ask a 
number of writers in what chosen spot they would 
like to pass a few beautiful hours. Emile Ver- 
haeren answered: 

" In a certain corner of the harbor of Hamburg." 

Verhaeren is among those who have revealed to us 
the mournful grandeur of city views, of factory 
towns, those places that seem accursed and from 
which one might think that happiness was forever 

The aspirations of our souls are so plentiful, so 
tenacious, so fertile that we find something to con- 
sole us, satisfy us, exalt us in those very spots where 
suffering rules tyrannically, where the valley of 
Gehenna is most precipitous. 

I visited the docks of Liverpool with a sort of 
horror. There were tall brick buildings, their roofs 
lost in the smoke, windows covered with grime, their 
interiors nothing but monstrous heaps of cotton 
bales. Men were climbing about there like flies. 
Everything smelt of fog and mould. Narrow pave- 
ments, slimy with rain, ran along by the dry-docks 
where the steamers, like immense corpses, were being 
assailed by the frantic crowd. The workers toiled 
amid a bombardment of hammers, a whirl of sparks. 


The drills snarled like whipped cats. A hideous 
light, smothered by the smoke and the mist of the 
Mersey, drowned everything in its fetid flood. 

And yet, since then, I have often dreamed of that 
terrible spot and felt the need of living there. 

For two years I attended the wounded of the First 
Army Corps, all of them men from the north, 
stained by the coal on face and chest, men from the 
factories or the mines. I walked with them through 
the smiling landscapes of the Aisne, the Vesle, the 
Marne, when those lovely valleys had not yet been 
too much disfigured by the war. Certainly they all 
enjoyed the slopes with their gracious groves of 
trees, the beautiful cultivated fields, draped like 
many-colored shawls over the shoulders of the little 
hills, but they all thought most, with love and regret, 
of cylinders, mine shafts, machines, and a smoky 

I can understand it: one's native soil, one's own 
habitude, the familiar human landscape, moulded 
upon the other and transfiguring it. Above every- 
thing we have to recogni/e that the soul is sensitive 
to many infinitely varied and often contradictory 
things. Grace of lines, rustic charm are qualities 
that attach us to a country ; fierce and desolate 
grandeur is another such, and this indeed has almost 
the strongest nostalgic power of all. 


When beauty seems to have abandoned the world, 
we must realize that it has first deserted our own 

Between your five senses, open like the dazzling 
portholes on the side of a ship, do you really believe 
there is nothing, nothing but the void, the night, the 
dumb wall? 

I do not know, I do not know. ... I cannot be- 
lieve. . . . 

The sound rises, rises like the skylark, and the 
ear rises with it. And then comes a moment when 
the sound still rises and the hearing stops, like those 
birds that do not frequent the loftiest altitudes. 

Tell me, are they lost truly and forever, those 
sounds that hold sway at the gates of your soul, 
those sounds to which your senses are not equal? 

Wait ! Hope ! Some day perhaps we shall know. 

You will say to me : " The light is so beautiful, so 
beautiful ! It adds luster to so many things that are 
dear to me. Have I any need to dream of other 
rays than these? My eyes have already so much 
to do that they are overcome by their delight. The 
beauty of sound and silence ceaselessly intoxicates 
my ear." 

True! Your soul has active purveyors. They 
do not leave it idle. They come and heap at its 


feet riches that demand its enthusiasm and its so- 

But often there is in your soul something your 
senses have not brought there, an exquisite joy, an 
inexpressible sadness. Do not forget that you live 
bathed in a multitude of rays to only some of which 
you are sensible. The others are perhaps not quite 
strange to you. What is passing, in contraband, 
across the frontiers of your being? Do not obsti- 
nately try to bring it under control. Submit, ex- 
perience, be merely attentive and respectful to 
everything. Some day we shall perhaps know more 
things than we are able to divine now. 


One of the greatest delights of the religious faith 
is to abandon ourselves to gratitude, to be able to 
thank, from an overflowing heart, the moral being . 
to whom we feel indebted for our wealth. 

Why then, since I have long lost this faith, do I 
still feel each day, and several times a day, the great 
need of singing the canticle of Francis of Assisi, the 
lovely canticle in which he says : 

Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, and unto all Thy creatures, 
especially our gracious brother the sun, who gives us the 
day and through whom Thou showest us Thy light. He 
is beautiful and radiant with a great splendor. He is the 
.symbol of Thee, Most High. 

Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, for our sister the moon and 


the stars, fashioned by Thee in the sky, clear, precious, and 

Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, for our mother the wind, 
and for the air and the clouds, for the pure sky, and for 
all the time during which Thou givest to thy creatures life 
and sustenance. 

Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, for our sister the water, 
who is so useful, precious and clean. 

Praise be unto Thee, O Lord, for our brother the fire, 
through whom Thou illuminest the night. He is lovely and 
gay, courageous and strong. 

Praise unto Thee, O Lord, for our mother the earth, who 
sustains us and nourishes us, and brings forth divers fruits 
and flowers of a thousand colors and the grass. 

A poet has transposed these divine strophes into 
the harmony of French verse and sings thus : 

I shall praise you, Lord, for having made so lovely and so 

This world where you wish us to await our life. 

Now, I know very well that in this world I am 
not awaiting life, I am living. I know very well that 
it is here T must live and lose no time about it. My 
gratitude is all the more pressing, all the more in- 

What if it does rise to an empty heaven, that in- 
finite gratitude ! 

It will not be lost. And is that heaven ever 
empty to which we breathe out so many dreams, 
where there trembles so much beauty ! 

The sweetest of human voices has said : " Lay up 
for yourselves in heaven the treasures that do not 
perish." Perhaps we shall be pardoned if we dare 


to murmur: "Lay up for yourselves, in this world, 
the treasures that do not perish." 

They will not perish, these treasures, O my son, 
and all you whom I love, they will not perish if you 
thirst to discover them only that you may share them 
with others, that you may bequeath them to a de- 
vout posterity. 

They will not perish if they find their being, their 
supreme reason, in that region of the soul where 
believers have raised up the tabernacle of a God. 


DURING the cruellest hours, when the war 
about me has been heaping agony upon agony, 
when I have been able to find nothing, nothing to 
which I could any longer attach my confidence and 
my need of hope, I have often been surprised to find, 
running through my head, one of those airs that I 
know so well, those airs that I love and that escort 
my soul, like watchful and radiant personages, 
through the chaos of the days. And I would think 
bitterly : " Just fifteen quite simple notes ! but they 
carry a meaning so beautiful, so profound, so com- 
manding that they would suffice, I am certain, to 
resolve all conflicts, to discourage all hatreds, if men 
knew them well enough to sing them all together with 
the same attentive tenderness." 

It may be that the philosophy which absorbs you 
is one that leaves no room for indulgence. Perhaps 
you feel yourself full of bitterness for your fellows, 

perhaps you have made up your mind not to see in 



the activity of the living any but motives of greed 
and covetousness. Do not laugh! Do not be in 
too great haste to prove yourself right ! Above 
everything, do not rejoice in being right in so dis- 
mal a fashion. 

I say it again, if certain pages of Beethoven were 
better known to those who suffer and slaughter one 
another they would succeed in disarming many a 
resentment, they would restore to many a tense face 
a soft, ineffable smile. 

If you do not believe this, you are not accustomed 
to living among simple people, you have never 
watched an irrepressible class of little children whom 
their master dominates and calms by making them 
sing, you have never heard a multitude of people 
intoning a hymn in some cathedral, you have never 
seen a great flood of workingmen, in some foul slum, 
break into the rhythm of a revolutionary song, per- 
haps you -have never even seen a poor man weeping 
because a violin had just recalled to him his youth 
and the obscure thoughts he believed he had never 
in all his life confessed to anyone. 

Think of all these things and then form some no- 
tion of what it is the thoughts of the great masters 
can do with the soul. Why, why is it not better 
known, this thing which is, indeed, knowledge and 
revelation itself? Why does it not reign over the 
empires, this which is sovereignty, grandeur, 


majesty? Why is it not more ardently invoked in 
the hour of crisis, this that teaches, equally well, 
fruitful doubt and serene resolution? 


True, he who says ecstatically, " The world is 
governed by love, goodness, generous passions," sur- 
renders himself to a childish error. But he who 
cries, " The whole world is enslaved by egoism, vio- 
lence and base passions," speaks foolishly. 

As we look about us, we might perhaps imagine 
that from one or the other of these two moral at- 
titudes there is no escape. Must we believe that 
the spirit of system has such an irresistible hold 
over everyone who sets about the business of living? 

The world! The world! It is much more beau- 
tiful and complex than that. It always upsets our 
prearrangements, and that is why we cherish it so 
dearly. But we also love to foresee things, and sys- 
tem seems to arrange them so that we can. 

What does it signify in a world that is capable of 
everything? Amid the evil and the mediocre there 
will always shine forth consolingly something noble, 
something wondrous. Is it not shameful to predict 
the basest things so glibly only to close our eyes the 
more obstinately before the beauty that is unknown 
and unforeseen? 

I assure you, in spite of all, that two lines of 


music can turn a multitude back and agitate the 
deepest springs of its behavior. If the miracle does 
not result from harmonious sounds, it will be borne, 
perhaps, of ten warm, rhythmical words, or the sight 
of a statue or the evocation of an image. 

The worship of immediate realities leads us to 
those easy victories that intoxicate the coarse spirits. 
At times it results in irreparable disasters, for it in- 
clines us to misprize those secret and delicate things 
that pave the way for the soul's most daring flights 
and ventures. 

Some other time I shall tell the story of the gen- 
eral who, in order to allay the grievances of his 
mutinous troops, offered them a cask of wine and, 
thanks to this blunder, suffered a defeat. 

People who reason in a wholesale fashion get along 
successfully from day to day till the hour when a 
tiny error destroys their success forever. 


If the thoughts of great men no longer cause mir- 
acles it is because they are too little understood, 
or are misunderstood, or are purposely distorted. 
You are mistaken if you think they are powerless 
because they are beautiful. 

The war, which has crushed such great masses of 
men, has brought us face to face with this melan- 
choly evidence, it has enabled us thoroughly to ex- 


amine many individuals and to put many experi- 
ences to the proof. It has permitted us to measure 
the whole humiliation of moral civilization before that 
other, the scientific and industrial civilization which 
we might still better call practical civilization. 

Gifted, serious, good men have said to me, " First 
of all one has to live. You can see, in the midst of 
this hurricane, what would become of a people weak- 
ened by idealism and given over to the works of the 
spirit. My son will study chemistry. The coming 
century will be a hard one, my son will perhaps never 
have the time to read Emerson or acquaint himself 
with the works of Bach ! Too bad ! But first of all 
one has to live." 

Does it not seem as if error had a dazzling power 
to seduce us and overwhelm us? Men are always 
hoping to conquer it by yielding to its demands. No 
one has the courage to turn his own steps away from 
its shifting shore. No one, for example, says to me : 
" The moral culture of the world is in peril. Me- 
chanical progress monopolizes and swallows up all 
human energy. The generous soul of the best men 
is forgotten, in exile. Let us, with a common voice, 
with all our strength, summon it to come back to us, 
or let us go and die in exile with it, in an exile that 
is noble and pure." 



I shall speak to you again of all these things ; we 
must talk a great deal more about the future if we 
wish to enter it without blindness, shame, and horror. 

For the moment, glance at the people who sur- 
round us, the restless people we see on all sides. 
There are some of them who know what is beautiful. 
They rejoice in it, almost in secrecy, and despise 
those who do not share their faith. As for the oth- 
ers, they do not know it, and that is all one can say. 
They are, according to their several characters, ig- 
norant and sceptical, or just simply ignorant. They 
see how works of art and the spirit miraculously sur- 
vive the decadence and the prosperity of empires: 
that astonishes them without convincing them. Many 
divine that this has something to do with a secret 
and sacred power, but they do not dare and they do 
not know how to avail themselves of it. They catch 
glimpses of the feast of the heroes and they cannot 
reali/e that their place is marked and waiting for 

Among my everyday companions are many edu- 
cated men upon whom the universities have lavished 
their care and their degrees. Many of them are 
interested neither in their duties, nor in their com- 
rades, nor, one would say, in their own thoughts. 
They pl'*y cards, read the papers, think about 


women and complain of ennui, for the war has en- 
throned boredom. And yet these souls, I assure you, 
are of good material and full of energy and re- 

What is to be done? How is one to introduce 
them to a larger, fuller life? How can one dare to 
do that without presumption, and also without fear 
of pomposity? How do it with affection, without 
lecturing them, without preaching to them? How 
be useful and friendly with simplicity? They have 
suffered, they have experience and obstinate views of 
their own. They do not believe that they have been 
dispossessed of anything. You have to listen very 
attentively to hear their soul groaning in the depths. 

I spoke to one of them about music. He replied 
with an indifference in which there was a touch of 
discouragement ; " For my part, I don't understand 
music. It can't interest me." We went on talking 
and I discovered that he was strangely sensitive to 
architectual matters, that he had a very subtle un- 
derstanding and lacked nothing but enlightenment, 
knowledge, to have applied himself to it with pas- 
sionate interest. 

It is usually that way. The field of moral ac- 
tivity is so large that it has in reserve for every soul 
a path of his own choice, accessible and full of allure- 
ment. I do not believe there is a single individual 
who cannot end by meeting, in the limitless realm 


of art, with a mode of expression that touches him, 
conforms quite accurately to his powers and tastes. 

You see I have waited a long time before pro- 
nouncing the word. I must at last make up my 
mind to call art by its name. Listen and do not 
confuse modesty with timidity. 

The past century has produced important artists 
in every country in the world. That was a beau- 
tiful, fertile and truly generous century! And yet 
it witnessed the birth of a misunderstanding that 
grows more obdurate, that increases as it grows older. 
Should one ever allow a misunderstanding to grow 

The romantic writers and, following them, all the 
artists of their epoch, intoxicated with their own 
genius, honored art as a religion. It was natural 
enough since at that moment, as we know, mankind 
was beginning to detach itself from its divinities, and 
it is hard to live without God. I cannot bring my- 
self to condemn that enthusiasm. I love art too 
well, and I shall always hold it as one of the distin- 
guishing marks of man and one of the greatest things 
in this world. 

But the priests of this new God have acted like 
all priests: they have hurled anathemas and brought 
in a reign of intolerance. They have grown mad 


with pride, when there was reason and when there 
was no reason for it. They have cried out at all 
hours of the day, " Away, profane ones ! " Many of 
them, who have had very noble souls, have dis- 
couraged, as if designedly, those whom their radiant 
face has fascinated. Others, instead of struggling, 
have held the epoch responsible for their ill-fortune. 
All of them, poets, painters, musicians, have let it 
be understood that they exercised a divine power and 
that the mass of men must only wonder and be silent, 
without themselves attempting anything of the 

No doubt there is a certain virtue in this attitude ; 
it has lavished solitary consolations on those who 
have turned their backs on fashion. 

The worthiest heirs of these illustrious men have 
confirmed their tradition. They have devised a 
splendid isolation, raised up a tower of ivory and 
dug all about it a moat that every day grows deeper. 
They have also stirred up childish and shame-faced 
adversaries with a desire for the commonest sort of 
popularity, and the confirmation of billboard success. 

Yet humanity is waiting and longs to be treated 
neither as intruders nor as children. 


It cannot be said any longer that pure art is of no 
use: it helps us to live, 


It helps us to live, in the most practical manner 
and every day. 

Every moment you make instinctive, reiterated, 
and forcible appeals to all the forms of art. And 
that not only in order to express your thought, but 
still more and above all to shape your thought, to 
think your thought. 

You find yourself in the midst of a landscape, and 
there is an image at the back of your eye. The man- 
ner in which you accept and interpret this image 
bears the mark of your personality and also of a 
crowd of other personalities which you call to your 
aid without knowing it. 

The day when the painters of our continent in- 
vented that convention we call perspective, they 
modified and determined, for many long years, our 
way of seeing things. It must be recognized equally 
that since the reign of impressionism we have under- 
stood, possessed in a new way, the colors of the 

You live in a sonorous universe where everything 
is rhythm, tone, number and -harmony: human voices, 
the great sounds of nature, the artificial uproar of 
society envelopes you in a vibrant and complex net- 
work that you ought unceasingly to decipher and 
translate. Well, this you cannot do without snb- 
mitlinif to the influence of the great souls who have 
occupied themselves with those things. The under- 


standing of movements, harmonies, rhythms, only 
comes to you at the moment when the musicians re- 
veal their secret to you, since they have been able, 
in some fashion, to interest you in them. 

And this is true in regard to everything. If you 
discover something in your environment, if you per- 
ceive an interesting harmony between two beings, a 
curious relation between two ideas, you will succeed 
in throwing them into relief, in giving happy expres- 
sion to them, only by means of the poet's art, and 
if you cannot find terms and images of your own, 
you can freely borrow them from Hugo, from 
Baudelaire, from those unknown artists who have 
elaborated the common language of men. 

We do not think alone. Resign yourself, there- 
fore, to being the delighted prisoner of a vast, human 
system from which you cannot escape without error 
and loss. Become, with good grace, the friend and 
the guest of great men. 


They will introduce you to a profound, passionate, 
lyrical life. They will aid you to possess the world. 
Art is not simply a manner of moving the pencil, the 
pen or the bow. It is not a secret, technical process. 
It is, above everything else, a way of living. 

If your business is to grow wheat or to smelt cop- 
per, perform it with interest and skill. That will 


render service to other men whose function is to 
assemble colors, shapes, words or sounds. They 
will know how to render service to you, in their own 
fashion, repay you in turn. But do not imagine that 
their works are destined merely to divert your leisure. 
They have a more sacred, a more beautiful mission: 
that of placing you in possession of your own wealth. 

Art is the supreme gift that men make of their 
discoveries, their riches. 

No one has possessed the world better than Lu- 
cretius, Shakespeare or Goethe. What do you know 
of Croesus, who heaped up his gold to such an ab- 
normal and monstrous degree? Nothing has re- 
mained of that chimerical fortune but a vague mem- 
ory. But the fortune of Rembrandt has become and 
will remain the fortune of our race. 

To follow the example of these masters is not so 
much to try, with pen or palette in hand, to imitate 
them, as to understand with them, and thanks to 
them, what they have understood. 

This cannot hurt your pride or hinder the expan- 
sion of your own personality. Quite the contrary. 
This studious humility is the surest path toward the 
conquest of your own soul. The anatomists will ex- 
plain to you that the human embryo adopts success- 
ively, in its quick evolution, all the forms the species 
has known before its actual flowering. This great 
law rules also in the moral order, and do not count 


on escaping it. It is bj first knowing the world 
through the masters that you will succeed some day 
in grasping it in your hands, dominating it yourself. 
Ambition is an intoxicating passion, but to go to 
school to genius is a prudent measure and a sweet 
experience, too. 


If you are unhappy, oppressed, if you have melan- 
choly doubts of your future, of your ability, of your 
power to love, and if nothing in heaven replies to 
your prayer, to your need for deliverance, remember 
that you are not abandoned without resource. Men 
remain to you. The best among them have made for 
your consolation, for your redemption, statues, books 
and songs. 

Open one of these books, therefore, and plunge into 
it ! Sink into it as into a cool forest, as into a deep, 
running brook. 

A man is speaking to you of himself or of the 
world. Read ! Read on ! Little by little the har- 
monious voice envelopes you, cradles you, lifts you 
up and suddenly bears you away. The tightness in 
your throat seems to relax, you breathe with a sort 
of fervor and exaltation. Generous tears start to 
your eyes or your whole soul shakes with laughter. 

This great and wholesome exaltation people at- 


tribute to the miraculous presence of beauty. No 
doubt, no doubt ! But that vague and simple expla- 
nation is an almost mythical one. 

For you must realize that the man with whom you 
have just been having a sort of intimate colloquy has 
comforted you and carried you out of yourself 
mainly because he has been able to prove to you that 
you were neither abandoned, nor destitute, nor truly 
disgraced. He has seemed to you great but, in re- 
calling to you that you are of the same race as him- 
self, he has effaced himself before you. He has given 
you happy, courageous, new tlwxights, and you have 
suddenly seen that you were thinking them also. 
For a second you have both communed together. 
And you have felt yourself once more in possession 
of a treasure that was escaping you. 

It is true, all these thoughts are your own, since 
it is enough for you to see them in writing to recog- 
nize them. It is true, you too have your grandeur, 
your nobility and infinite resources. How could 
you have forgotten it for a moment? It is enough 
for you to open that book or to hum that song to 
remember it. It is true, your life also is astonish- 
ing and full of adventures. How (lid you fall into 
that despair? What did that discouragement sig- 



During the winter of 1917, I made the acquaint- 
ance of a young provincial musician who was serving 
in the same unit with me. At Soissons we found 
a room where we were able to meet and play to- 

Our new comrade was a simple man with a coun- 
try accent. 

He played the violin carefully and with talent. 
Often, during our concerts, we watched his face as it 
bent over the instrument, and it seemed to us that in 
those moments that humble violinist was in communion 
with the great souls of Bach, Beethoven, and Franck, 
that he was holding a brotherly and affectionate con- 
versation with them. I felt then that he had nothing 
to envy in the princes of this world. And it is a 
fact, I believe, that he did not envy them anything. 

Do not tell me that you do not know how to play 
any instrument. That signifies nothing. There are 
two skilful professional musicians in my group who 
play their instruments only just enough to enable 
them not to lose practice for their calling. They 
are a sort of mechanicians. As for you, you have a 
heart, ears, and a memory. And that's the main 

Believe that what you hold in your memory is more 
precious than everything else, for you carry that 


with you wherever you go, through all your days. 

Do you think I can ever bore myself, with all those 
thousands of airs that sing in my head, that se- 
cretly accompany all my thoughts and offer a sort 
of harmonious comment upon all the acts of my life? 

If this does not seem possible to you, remember 
that you possess the immense library of humankind 
and all its museums. Think of all you have read 
and admired. Think of it with pride and affection. 
Think of all that remains to you to see and to read 
and tell yourself how marvelous it is to be so igno- 
rant as to have such riches in reserve, to have such 
treasures to conquer. 

Amid the ordeals and the disillusionments of your 
existence, lift your soul every day toward those di- 
vine brothers who are our masters, and repeat with 
a proud humility: " It is sweet to sit down at your 
feast ! And how good to think that it is to you we 
owe our opulence and our prosperity ! " 


IF, concerning an old man, some one said to us : 
" He has been perfectly happy all his life, he is 
going to die without ever having suffered," we should 
be incredulous at first ; then, if we were obliged to 
admit the truth of the remark, we should feel for 
this old man not so much envy as pity. With our 
astonishment would be mingled, in spite of all, some- 
thing a little like contempt. 

Happiness is our aim, the final reason for our 
living. But is it fair to say that sorrow is opposed 
to happiness? 

There are sorrows that one cannot, that one should 
not, escape. They are the very price we pay for 
happiness. It is by means of them that WP travel 
toward otir own d" ;-lopment. They prepare us for 
joy and render us worthv of it. Without them, 
could we ever know that we were happy? 

If I believed, O my unknown friend for whom today 


I am hoping these consolations, if I believed that 
you could reach happiness, that is to say, the har- 
monious prosperity of your soul, without experienc- 
ing any agonies, I should not undertake to praise 
your suffering. But you suffer, I know it, and you 
are called to other sufferings. Henceforth I shall 
not refrain from praising what wounds you. For 
one does not console anyone by depreciating his 
grief, but by showing him how beautiful, how rare, 
how desirable it is, and your suffering can truly be 
called that. 

I do not dream, then, of depriving you of your 
wealth. I only hope that you will be able to ap- 
preciate its full value. I beg that you will pardon 
me if I chance to hurt you by placing my hand upon 
your wound. I do it, you may be sure, with the 
affection and the solicitude of a man who has con- 
secrated his life to such tasks. 

They will tell you, my friend, that I am seeking to 
flatter your distress by reasonings that are full of 
guile, that I am singing to lull you to sleep and 
deceive you, that I am dressing in the gilded clothes 
of an age that is past the black demon that torments 
you. Let me still have your confidence: I have only 
one ambition, it is your own greatest joy. I 
could not lead you astray without shame and without 
deceiving myself; for are you not indeed myself, O 
my friend? 



There are some material fortunes which humble 
and reasonable men do not desire because they divine, 
in spite of the pleasures that result from them, what 
a crushing load they are. 

By contrast, among the spiritual riches that we 
are able to possess, grief seems surrounded by a 
simple aureole. It is tyrannical, redoubtable, mu- 
tilating; its favorites are its victims. It does not 
descend upon its chosen ones with the softness of a 
dove, it pounces like a bird of prey, and those whom 
it carries off into the sky bear upon their sides the 
marks of its clenched claws. 

But it is the sign of life ; of all our possessions 
it is the last to leave us, it is the one that escorts us 
to the brink of the abyss. 

It gives us the measure of man. He who has not 
suffered always seems to us a little like a child or 
a pauper. 

The bitterness of men who have been often visited 
by sorrow is so truly a treasure that, if they could, 
they would not rid themselves of it for anything in 
the world: it resembles authority. 

Through his tears, through his martyrdom, he who 
is charged with a great sorrow feels that he is the 
abode of some terrible thing that is also sacred and 
majestic. Great griefs command our respect. Be- 


fore them knees tremble and heads bow as in the pres- 
ence of thrones and tabernacles. 

He who has suffered greatly makes us feel timid 
and humble before him. He knows things that we 
can only guess. We gaze upon him with passionate 
admiration as upon a traveller who has journeyed 
over oceans and explored far countries. It is at the 
time of his first wounds that the young man dis- 
covers his soul and plumbs his inner nobility. 

Our grief is so precious a blessing that for its 
sake we dread inquisitive contacts. We preserve it 
jealously from the touch of those who might, through 
clumsiness or stupidity, debase this terrible and pre- 
cious treasure. We long only that people should 
leave us alone with this bitter possession ! Let them 
beware of frustrating us when they imagine that they 
are working for our relief! 

When sorrow leaves us too soon, we feel a sort of 
shame and think less well of ourselves: it shone out 
of its shadowy casket, out of the deepest depths of 
the chest where we heap up our true treasures, and 
now, behold, it has vanished! We find ourselves al- 
most miserable and utterly dispossessed. 

The man who beats a retreat before a great ordeal 
fills us with distrust and pity. Something in us re- 
joices that he has not suffered. But something re- 
grets that he has not given his measure, that he has 
not been the hero, the potent, exceptional man we 


hoped he would be. And that is not a mere per- 
version of our need for the spectacular: we are not 
less exacting with ourselves. 

When sorrow comes to us, and we manage to es- 
cape it, the first sense of deliverance we feel is marred 
by an obsjcure, obstinate regret, as if we had lost an 
opportunity to enrich ourselves. 

Tell me, what man among us did not, at the outset 
of the present great catastrophe, interrogate his own 
fate with a double anguish : the anguish to know what 
sufferings were in store for him, the fear also that 
he might not suffer enough, that he might not re- 
ceive, and quickly, an adequate share of the ordeal. 


This religious respect we experience in the face of 
grief gives its meaning and beauty to the feeling of 

We do not wish to admit that a great grief can 
live side by side with us without demanding that we 
should share it. As a man. of lowly station wistfully 
approaches the table of princes, so we revolve about 
the grief of others in the hope of being invited to 
partake of it. 

It is an overmastering impulsion that rises from 
the depths of our natures. The eagerness we are 
able to bring to the sharing of others' joys is but 


lukewarm beside the insurmountable urge that makes 
us share in their sorrow. 

This is because our taste for joy is stamped with 
a keen quality of reserve, an irreducible delicacy. 
The joy even of those who are nearest to us can 
easily become repugnant to us. We are too proud 
to seem eager for it. True grief, on the contrary, 
attracts us, fascinates us. It disarms our critical 
sense and leaves us only an obscure feeling of envy. 

Sympathy stirs us gently without overwhelming 
us ; it is for this reason too that we find it so full of 

Although we recoil from the terrors of the leading 
part, sympathy permits us to play passionately the 
role of supernumeraries. 

It is not we who are struck down and yet we can 
taste the mystic horror of the wound. The chosen 
victim bestows alms upon us and we accept them 
without shame. We have the perfume of the Host 
on our lips and it is not our blood that has paid the 
sacrifice. We are the guests at a sumptuous and 
tragic feast. We bear the reflected light of the 
great funeral pyre, without undergoing the flames 
and the destruction. 

That explains our leaning toward those works of 
art that find their strength and their subjects in 
human grief. It is for this reason, surely, that we 


love so dearly to shed tears at the theater. The 
great artists have drawn from grief their most beau- 
tiful inspirations. We vow eternal gratitude to 
those who can revive in us a faithful image of our 
torments and call them back to our forgetful souls, 
to those who know so well how to give us a foretaste 
of the delights that future suffering has in store for 


Not all griefs exalt us and add to us. There are 
some that are sterile, withering, unconfessable. 

Such griefs bring only misery and impoverishment. 
In the moral order they stand for debts and failures. 
However great may be our blind indulgence for our- 
selves, we cannot, on principle, impute them to our- 
selves. They do not bear the stamp of destiny but 
of our own baseness. 

Who, indeed, would wish to share them with us, 
when we do not even let them appear? 

Who would wish to associate himself with our 
weaknesses, our shames, our jealousies, our betray- 
als? Who can feel sympathy for a grief that dis- 
avows everything pure and generous that exists in 
us ? No mention is made of these griefs in the Beati- 

Christ himself might ask us to kiss the face of a 


leper. But what charity could so sacrifice itself as 
to embrace our shame and our degradation? 

That is the cup we must put away from our lips. 

The stoics pursue their strange happiness with an 
impassibility that is worse than death. Epictetus 
writes : " If you love an earthen vessel, tell yourself 
that you love an earthen vessel, for then if that ves- 
sel is broken you will not be troubled by it. If you 
love your son or your wife, tell yourself that you 
love a mortal being, for then if that being chance 
to die you will not be troubled by it." 

Comes our wisdom at such a price? If so, I re- 
nounce and abhor it. Better trouble and sorrow 
than this inhuman serenity ! 

Certainly I willingly renounce the earthen vessel ; 
the sound of its breaking will never be loud enough 
to interrupt the conversation our souls pursue. But 
those dear faces that are my horizon, my heaven and 
my homeland, can I think without anguish of losing 
them forever? How irreparably I should despise 
myself if, on that condition, I succeeded in winning 
my own salvation ! 

This philosophy is poor, forsaken, desperate, 
rather than truly wise. It renounces, by degrees, 
everything, for the sake of an ironical peace. It 


withdraws from life the least debatable motives for 
continuing it. It seeks to close the heart to sorrow. 
But since that remains inevitable, it is better to love 
it, better to make an ally of it, better to conquer it 
by main strength and possess it intimately. 

Dryness. ot h^art cannot be a good^iin^. What, 
is everything to be taken away from me, even my 
grief, even that grief which remains to us when all 
other blessings have been ravished away? 

The resources of philosophy are poor and desti- 
tute unless the heart can anoint them, sanctify them, 
and invest them with its own supreme authority. 


The fanaticism of grief is a fact so profoundly 
human that religions and governments have exploited 
it successfully. This almost mystical passion flour- 
ishes so well among peoples that are permeated with 
the ancient traditions of suffering and renunciation ! 

Nevertheless, the path does not lie through this 
sublime error, which is altogether too favorable for 
the enterprises of criminal ambition. 

Sorrow cannot be a thing that one covets. It is, 
it ought to be, simply a thing that one accepts. 
Like certain terrible dignities, like certain over- 
whelming honors, one receives it, one does not seek 
it. Destiny brings a sufficient burden of mourning 
and cruelty, it should not be tempted. The noble 


life demands that we shall be courageous, it does not 
require us to be foolhardy. To him who " seeks 
while he groans," suffering will never be wanting. 

At this hour the whole world is intoxicated with it, 
satiated, it would seem, for all time. At this hour 
there rises an immense cry, of pity and supplica- 

All generous souls are wounded to the quick and 
stagger. It is not in the moment when they beg for 
mercy that one would desire a superaddition of 
martyrdom. It is enough to assume the sanguinary 
wealth with which we are overwhelmed. 

No one will ever be deprived of it who lives for 
love. We shall all be honored according to our mer- 
its. And we shall know that grief is its own re- 
ward ; for it is in sorrow and abnegation that our 
soul becomes supremely aware of the beauty of the 
world and of its own virtues. 

We cannot ask to be indemnified for our 
riches. . . . 


In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children! 

It is true! Our child was born in sorrow, in your 
sorrow, O my friend ! I am jealous because of it. 
Forgive me! 

Forgive me, for your part is more beautiful than 
mine, inasmuch as it contains more suffering. Let 


me look upon you with envy. Let me think of my 
own lot with regret. 

You have borne, you have brought forth, you have 
nourished. It was not in my side that this little 
body lay. It is not my flesh this tender, greedy 
mouth has clung to. I have known nothing of that 
suffering. You have kept it all for yourself. I 
have only picked up the crumbs, like a beggar, like 
a pauper. 

I have not suffered! I have not suffered enough! 
I look on my happiness as upon something usurped. 
It is your happiness that I share. It is your wealth 
that overflows even upon me. 

I know that a day may come when we shall both 
suffer together because of this son. But whatever 
may be our common anguish, you will always keep 
the first place, you will always walk before me. 
You have forever outdistanced me along the shining 

How can I help regarding you with envy, I who 
have not suffered enough? 


Exalted spirits, struck by our many resemblances 

to the beasts, have striven to find what was the dis- 
tinguishing mark of man. It is a noble solicitude^ 
for wheresoever the mark of men may be it is that 
way we must go. If we really possess a character- 


istic virtue of which the animals are deprived, it is 
that which we must exalt, in order to be completely, 
proudly, men. 

Pascal said : " Man is obviously made to think ; 
and his whole dignity, his whole merit, and his whole 
duty lies in thinking rightly." 

Can we indeed believe that no other being has this 
grandeur to any degree? Are we so sure that "a 
tree does not know it is miserable "? 

Even art, which may turn out to be the instru- 
ment of our redemption, is not certainly the lot of 
our race alone. Song and the dance triumph among 
the animals and often appear like the beautiful in- 
ventions of a gratuitous activity, with no other end 
than themselves and the emotions they give or in- 

In renunciation, perhaps, lies our distinction, the 
trait which stamps us and sets us apart. 

I say " perhaps," because animals also offer us 
examples of abnegation. Sacrifice beautifies even 
their habits. With them, too, the individual sacri- 
fices himself for the group, the hercl sacrifices itself 
for the race. At the moment when I am writing 
these lines we are in autumn ; a swarm of bees is 
dying of cold on a branch beside me. They are 
dying with a sort of resignation, in order that their 
hive, so poor in resources, may survive the winter. 

Why not share, then, with these humble victims, 


our most beautiful quality? Why refuse to possess 
something in common with them, since it is a virtue? 
Why cut ourselves off haughtily from the rest of 

Over and above this, the renunciation that has no 
particular or general motive of interest, the pure 
and absolute renunciation which is a heroic folly, is 
undoubtedly our business. I am not speaking now 
of the renunciation of the better religions, the re- 
nunciation that counts on celestial rewards, but of 
the renunciation which is an end in itself, which 
finds in itself its own sorrowful recompense. 


Can we ever forget, my friend, that woman who 
was the lesson of your youth, your counsellor and 
your example? 

She lived in that dark, low room where you so 
loved to go and to which you used to show me the 
way, a way that seemed to me that of veneration 

Disillusionments, griefs, sickness and, without 
doubt, a great need for renunciation had gradually 
sequestered her in that unlovely place of refuge, 
encumbered with old books and full of the odor of 
dust. She seemed cut off from the world ; but in 
the shadow of that retreat her eye sparkled so 
vivaciously, she spoke with so melodious a voice that 


the world pursued her who had abandoned it even 
into her retirement: the friendship of young people, 
that friendship which is so pure and spontaneous, 
was for her a constant testimony. This was the 
only thing she would not renounce, her only orna- 
ment, her last elegance, her possession. 

Year by year death came to snatch from her af- 
fection those of her own blood. Every sort of hap- 
piness withdrew from her as she retired into her 
abode, light itself she dreaded more and more, and 
more and more renounced. 

Every time we passed through her little door, so 
slow in opening, we had at first an insurmountable 
feeling of being suffocated, for we were still intoxi- 
cated with our radiant life, our destiny and our 

But soon our eyes grew accustomed to the dark- 
ness, our souls recognized the humble, penetrating 
odor of the hangings, and we found again that beau- 
tiful, commanding glance, that voice with its super- 
natural freshness. 

Her malady struck her new blows. This woman 
who still possessed the space of three rooms had to 
shut herself in one of them. And then, even of this 
she possessed no more than a corner. Her world 
was only a little wall and the wood of an old bed. 

That ardent eye still shone. That spiritual 
voice still prevailed. One day the voice faltered 


and sank, like a ship disabled in a storm which gives 
up all resistance. 

That day we were sad, sad, we who had not learned 
to renounce. 

Delivered from romanticism, the nineteenth cen- 
tury toward its close and the twentieth century at 
its beginning, exalted an image full of the pride of 
physical life, of impetuous health. 

Never had humanity seemed more intoxicated with 
its carnal development, with its splendid animality, 
than at the very moment when the war broke out. 
Our humanity! behold it now, covered with wounds 
so deep that for long decades the sight of them will 
baffle us and fill our pity with despair. 

Behold it now, like a vast race of invalids. It 
creeps over a world where now there are more grave- 
yards than villages. 

We have had an unparalleled experience of sorrow 
and renunciation. 

And yet the desire for happiness is deeply rooted : 
the unanimous voice to which our world listens 
repeats, from amid the sobs : " We shall renounce 
nothing ! " 

To him who listens with an attentive ear, it says 
again, it says particularly : " We shall renounce 
nothing, not even renunciation ! " 


But let us leave this immense grief to itself. Let 
us leave it to satiate and appease itself with its own 
contemplation Silence ! 



TWO immense worlds remain faithful to me when 
the others discourage or betray me. Two 
refuges open to my heart when it is weary, faltering 
or harassed with temptation. 

I should like very much to tell you about them, 
since you are my friend. I can tell you, since you 
have nothing to envy me, since you bear within your- 
self two such worlds, two kingdoms that will submit 
to you undividedly, without contest. 

Yesterday I was watching some prisoners working. 
They were pushing the trunk of a tree lashed to a 
cart. Sweat was rolling down their faces, for the 
heat was great, the slope steep and the load heavy. 
An armed soldier was watching them. Large letters 
were printed on their clothes to proclaim their servi- 
tude. And I thought : they live, they do not look too 
unhappy, they do not seem crushed by their condi- 
tion. And if this is so, it is not because they have 

the placidity of beasts. No! Look at their eyes, 



listen to their voices. It is precisely because they 
are men and they carry everywhere with them two 
refuges, whither the gaoler cannot follow them, two 
precious possessions that no punitive discipline can 
snatch from them : their future and their memories. 

The longer I watch, from close by, those men who, 
for four years have led the inhuman life of the army, 
the better I understand the meaning of their in- 
credible patience : between the future and the remem- 
bered past they have the air of awaiting the pas- 
sage of a storm. They are gulping down, you would 
say, hastily and with closed eyes, this bitter and 
criminal present, in order lo reserve their hearts all 
the better for the things of the future and the past. 
One feels in their conversation only these two lumir 
nous existences. They seek and unite them unceas- 
ingly above the bloody abyss. I have also observed 
that, in the concerts they give themselves to cheer 
their periods of rest, their souls always return, with 
the same rapture, to their former way of living, to 
their old sons, their familiar ways of being sad or 
joyous. The artistic attempts that are carried on 
to interest them, at the bottom of their hearts, in 
the formidable present, remain sterile and, as it were*, 

They seem to reply, silently: "What have all 
these things to do with us? Isn't it enough for us 
to live them? Isn't it enough for us to do them, 


every day with our blood and tears? Give us back 
our dear kingdom. Give back to our souls that 
memory which is their most imperishable and mar- 
velous possession." 


Between the future and the remembered past, man 
is left to struggle with what he possesses least, the 

And yet this present is lavish of all sorts of ma- 
terials that we can transform into riches. It is our 
liquid fortune, mobile and in circulation. It is the 
well-filled purse upon which we draw for our daily 

It reaches us out of the depths of time, like a 
great river, loaded with sailing-ships and steamers, 
deep, flowing, beautiful with all its reflections, and 
rolling gold in its sands. 

But it has its rages, its whims, its cruelties. Ac- 
cording to the season, it overflows and desolates the 
land or suddenly dries up and deserts the fields that 
it refreshed with its floods ! 

So be it! If the present refuses to yield its 
manna, we will draw upon our last resources. If 
the times overwhelm us with bitterness, we will flee 
to our refuges, where we have nothing to fear from 
intruders or masters or tormentors. 

Common-sense folk, who have the secret of de- 


basing life in the name of a reason that is more mis- 
chievous than actual stupidity, are in- the habit of 
devoting an almost superstitious worship to the pres- 
ent reality. To tell the truth, they are greatly 
afraid that the taste for memory and hope will turn 
young men away from that immediate action which 
is necessary for the conquest and preservation of 
material wealth. 

They honor with great pomp the origins in the 
past of those traditions that are favorable to them ; 
and the way they invoke and prepare for the future 
loads the present with chains and shackles. 

They dread, in reverie, an enemy of action. As 
if there were any great actions that have not their 
source in great dreams! 

These people deceive themselves. They sacrifice 
an unequalled consolation to the needs of a fleeting 
fortune. But do not imagine that the failure of 
their fortune leaves these men utterly abandoned : 
the refuges open gladly, even for those who have de- 
spised them. 


An intimate friend once said to me, as he watched 
his little son playing: " You see; he's no longer the 
baby you knew last year. He 's another child. I 
have been cheated of the one I had last year. I 
shall never have him again. I have lost a child." 


O dear, big heart, how beautiful and how unjust 
those words are ! How human ! How they overflow 
with ingratitude and with adoration! 

You know quite well that every object that ap- 
pears on the horizon of our souls has, for us, two 
existenfces. One is sudden, sharp, almost always 
penetrated with an intense and, so to say, corrosive 
flavor: that is the existence of the present. Men 
agree in recognizing that its duration is hardly 
measurable. But the other existence is perennial, as 
ample as the measure of our life and our thoughts; 
in this sense it is almost infinite. 

Thus each moment of the present survives in mem- 
ory for years, and doubtless for centuries, since pos- 
terity can gather up and prolong the best of our 
acts and our works. 

It is true, my friend, that each moment dispossesses 
us, even of the object we never withdraw our arms 
from. The miser, infatuated with his material 
riches, may well suffer agony of mind over them, 
but we, we? Do we not know that each moment re- 
stores to us, transfigured, all the treasures it has 
snatched away from us? It robs us of the frailer 
blessings, it offers us imperishable blessings, less 
mortal than ourselves. 

You have conquered one whole happy day. Con- 
template without regret the sleep that marks its 
end, for you will continue to live this day during 


all the rest of your life. And if this day was truly 
beautiful, do you not know that others after you 
will continue to live it, down, ever farther down, the 
succession of the years? 

Let your son grow, without too much anxiety, like 
a beautiful tree: the child he was once, the child he 
was but now, the child he is at present, you will not 
lose them, O insatiable heart ! They will escort you 
toward old age, like a beloved multitude that in- 
creases every day and cannot die. 

Owing to the war, I have seen my own child only 
seven times, and each time I have hardly recognized 
him. Seven times I have believed him lost. I know 
now that I have seven lovely images in my soul, seven 
children to adorn and hearten my solitude. 


There are beauties which the present fails to ap- 
preciate. That is natural, because it is greedy, dis- 
ordered, care-ridden. Memory exists to see that 
justice is done. To it falls the divine role of restor- 
ing and, at times, pardoning. \ It is memory which, 
in the last resort, vindicates and judges. It is in its 
light that things appear to us under the aspect of 

None of our thoughts would be really happy that 
had not received the approbation of memory, that 
did not find themselves sealed at last with its sov- 


ereign imprint. ( We do not know the true value of 
our moments until they have undergone the test of 
memory. Like the images the photographer plunges 
into a golden bath, our sentiments take on color; 
and only then, after that recoil and that trans- 
figuration, do we understand their real meaning and 
enjoy them in all their tranquil splendor. 

Days of ours that had seemed to us dull and hope- 
less show themselves in memory luminous and de- 
cisive. Journeys undertaken without eagerness, 
without enthusiasm, and without any of the fresh- 
ness of surprise, become, from a distance, fruitful 
in revelations and discoveries. 

Every reality develops with time a thousand 
aspects of itself that are just as real, as charged 
with meaning and consequence, as the original aspect. 
We cannot foretell what memory will contrive for us. 
It is a treasure all the more precious and unexpected 
because it is so independent of our rudimentary logic. 
For the logic of memory is more subtle than ours ; 
it seems entirely free from our miserable calculations ; 
it draws its inspirations from our true interests, 
which we ourselves are forever misapprehending. 
The slow task it pursues testifies to so rare a virtue 
and so munificent a wisdom that man, struck with his 
own unworthiness, might well seek there the signs of 
a divine intervention. 

Sometimes it is a friend, whom we have misunder- 


stood or misjudged, who takes on in memory his 
true aspect and his true stature and reveals the 
profound influence which, without our knowing it, he 
has exercised over our thoughts. 

Sometimes it is a word which we heard at first 
with an inattentive or distrustful ear, and which we 
find again engraved in letters of gold over the por- 
tico of the secret temple where we love to collect our 

Like some skilful goldsmith, memory seizes the 
materials that our life accumulates haphazard. It 
submits them to the touchstone, fashions them, em- 
bellishes them and imprints upon them that mysteri- 
ous sheen which gives them their distinctive meaning 
and their value. 

The cult of memory should not turn us away from 
the present out of which memory itself draws it8 

We sometimes meet men of whom plain people say, 
with profound wisdom, " Their mind is elsewhere." 
It is true; they are the timid and tonm-nted souls who 
have early sought in memory a refuge which noth- 
ing, it seems, could ever make them renounce. 

Let us beware of troubling this retreat. Some 
day, perhaps, we may long for one like it. But how- 
ever deeply one may seem to have taken refuge in 


memory, one cannot escape the clutch, the invasion 
of the present. 

It is best, therefore, and with all the strength that 
is in us, to accept, honor, love this present as the 
principal source of our riches. 

If the true cult of memory were a less exceptional 
moral usage, many men would hesitate to create bad 
memories for themselves ; for our worst memories are 
not those of our sufferings, our ordeals, our priva- 
tions, but of our shameful acts, our cowardices and 
our betrayals. 

Our weakness lasted only a moment ; must we 
really, for thirty years, feel the hostile stare of that 
moment resting heavily upon us? Who knows? 
Hope, even so, in the clemency of memory, which is 
able to mitigate and pardon everything. It is in- 
dulgent and full of pity. In a world given over to 
spite and reprisals, it remains the only inviolable 
refuge of the outcast, as the cathedrals used to be 
in the days of the right of sanctuary. 

For him who descends with true fervor into his 
own depths, memory always preserves some corner 
pure from all baseness. Do we not know, moreover, 
that in order to console us memory consents to work 
in concert even with its enemy, forgetfulness? 



Who can dispute with us the world of memory? 
No one ! And who would dare, without fear, to do 
so? It is because we are more ardently attached to 
this possession than to any other. 

At times, a clumsy or malevolent hand succeeds 
in smirching one of our dear memories. Then we 
experience an indignation and a despair as lasting 
and profound as if these sentiments recognized their 
cause in the loss or the fall of a loved being. 

Happily this criminal work implies a rarely evil 
spirit, a sort of perverse genius of which humanity 
is none too prodigal. And then our memory is a 
territory too vast, too mountainous, too impreg- 
nable as a whole for the rage of hostile destruction 
to be able to defile or mar large portions of it. The 
best of our memories thus remain in safety and for 
us alone. Besides, we keep careful watch around 
this fortune. 

Our great memories are actual moral personages, 
so necessary to our happiness that we bear them 
under a sacred arch, sheltered from all injury, from 
all contact. It is into this solitude that we go 
ceaselessly to question them, invoke them, call them 
to witness. 

A past in common does not always give memories 
in common, so true it is that the heart defends itself, 


in its innermost retreat, as the physical self defends 
its flesh against the intrusions of the stranger. 

It sometimes happens that men find pleasure in 
recalling in our presence the episodes of an existence 
that was passed, by themselves or by them and us, 
in companionship. It is then that we measure the 
road our soul has travelled on its solitary path: 
these things of which they speak to us, these deeds 
which, it seems, we have performed, these landscapes 
which they remember having crossed in our company, 
we no longer recognize ; we do not even wish to recog- 
nize them. We smile in an embarrassed, awkward, 
unhappy way. Our whole attitude says : " Is it 
really true that we have drunk from the same cup? 
For all that, it was not the same wine we drank, and 
my intoxication is not yours." 

We cannot give to one who is dear to us a greater 
proof of love than to admit him to the intimacy of 
our memories. We have need of all our tenderness 
to help us to introduce another soul into the sub- 
terranean basilica, to lead that soul as close as pos- 
sible to the refuge where, in spite of all, there is only 
room for one. 

Perfect communion in memory is an extraordinary 
favor, and an admonition. If it is given to you to 
enjoy it, open your arms and receive one elect soul. 



No doubt you have had the experience, when pass- 
ing through a country where you were travelling for 
the first time, of stopping short, as you rounded a 
mountain, before some unknown horizon, and finding 
it strangely familiar. 

No doubt you have had the experience of arriving 
at night in a dark square where you knew you had 
never been before, and briskly finding your way 
through it, just as if you were resuming some old 

At times the spectacle of a smiling valley arrests 
you at the top of some hill. You thought you knew 
nothing of this country, and yet strange and sure 
impressions guide you ; they are like old memories. 
You advance, and behold, you are looking at every- 
thing as if you recognized it. That road which 
winds between the pastures, as supple and sinuous as 
a beautiful river of vellow water, you are almost 
certain you have followed it long ago, in some misty, 
far-off existence which, nevertheless, is not your own. 

There are times, too, when you arc dreaming, as 
you sit alone, and suddenly a memory passes over 
you: the memory of some act the man you are surely 
never performed. Yet it is not a fabrication, an in- 
vention. You know, you feel, that it is a personal 
memory. A memory of what world? Of what life? 


Do not reject this shadowy treasure, and do not 
tremble ! Do not accept complacently the explana- 
tions of the superstitious or of the pseudo-scientists. 
The flesh of your flesh was not born yesterday. 
Something survives in it that is contemporaneous 
with all the generations. Many a revelation awaits 
us. Let us keep for them a soul that is accessible, 
experienced, and not too distrustful. 


Do not imagine that to possess memory is to pos- 
sess a dead world. 

Among your friends there is surely one who has a 
house and a garden. From time to time he invites 
you to visit him. Every time you enter his house 
you observe some striking change: he has connected 
two parts of the building which till then had no 
means of communication. He has planted some new 
trees. The old elms are flourishing. Some rose- 
bushes have died. Urns have been set out on the 
lawn. The life of men, of animals, of plants has 
drawn the inanimate world into its toils, modeled it, 
sculptured it, forced it to take part in the move- 
ment of the soul. 

It is in like fashion that the domains of memory 
cultivate themselves and live. They are not ruins, 
inalterable, rigid, fixed forever in the ice of some 
past epoch. Life still penetrates and moves them; 


they do not cease to share in its enterprises, its la- 
bors, its festivals. 

When a man has opened for you several times the 
same gate in the wall, when several times he has re- 
lated the same adventure to you, with intervals of a 
few months or a few years, observe closely the spots 
to which he leads you and the persons to whom he 
presents you. Every time you will find new things, 
you will find that roads have been laid out, under- 
brush cut down, windows opened and unexpected 
supernumeraries called in. 

Is it true then that that was a dead tale, wrapped 
up in what we call the shroud of the past? 

The world of " living memory " is so indissolubly 
bound up with our resolutions and our acts that in 
accumulating memories we feel we are preparing, 
erecting our future itself. 


There is another refuge! 

" What makes hope so intense a pleasure," writes 
M. Bergson, " is that the future, which we fashion 
to suit ourselves, appears to us at one and the same 
time under a multitude of forms, all equally smiling, 
equally possible. Even if the most desirable of them 
all is realized, we must have sacrificed the others, and 
we shall have lost much. The idea of the future, 
pregnant with infinite possibilities, is therefore more 


fertile than the future itself, and that is why we find 
more charm in hope than in possession, in reverie 
than in reality." 

The idea of the future alone interests us : that 
*alone is our treasure, that alone is endowed with ex- 
istence. It is that indeed which we call the future. 
And if M. Bergson, at the end of these admirable 
lines, creates a distinction between the future and 
the idea of the future, he does not make us forget 
that he has just, and as if by design, caused the 
confusion ; for what " we fashion to suit ourselves " 
is the idea of the future, and nothing else. But, 
following the example of M. Bergson, let us call 
our idea of the future the future itself. 

This idea is our cherished fortune. Certainly we 
take a passionate interest in seeking, in what flows 
out of the present, something that resembles the 
realization of our dreams. And yet their realization, 
like their failure, marks, in every sense, their end, 
their exhaustion. And that is insupportable to us. 
Whatever fate the present reserves for our imagin- 
ings, we labor every day, as fast as time devours 
them and destroys them by making them finite, to 
push them further back into the infinite, to prolong 
them, to reconstruct them, so that we may never 
have less of a future at our disposal. 

This need of a future, which has no other connec- 
tion than our hope with the rugged actuality of the 


present, is so deep-rooted, so generally human a 
thing, that one cannot contemplate it without a re- 
spect which is almost religious. In order that this 
future, so pregnant with dreams, should be as neces- 
sary as it is to the moral life of most men, it must 
represent a truly incomparable treasure. The em- 
brace we throw around it is the close and powerful 
embrace we reserve for those possessions that lie 
nearest our hearts. And, since we have already de- 
tached the word " possession " from the gross mean- 
ing that is usually attributed to it, let us say that 
the possession of a dream, when it assures our hap- 
piness, is a reality less debatable and less illusory 
than the possession of a coal-mine or a field of 

But as there is no possession without conquest, 
without effort, we must merit our dreams and culti- 
vate them lovingly. 

If people who have taken the mould of reason re- 
proach us with distracting for a moment the men of 
that practical reality which pretends to be prepar- 
ing the future, we are ready to reply to them: 

" Glance at those men to whom our words are 
addressed. You know that they are crushed with 
fatigue and privation. They have experienced 
every danger and every sort of weariness. By what 
right will you hinder them from taking refuge in 
a world which is henceforth the least contestable of 


their domains? Do not, on their account, be afraid 
of reverie ; it could never fill them with as much 
bitterness as does this modern reality of which you 
are the unpunished builders. 

" If you are not weary of glimpsing your future 
through the specifications, the account-books, the 
cage-bars, and the unbreathable fumes of industrial- 
ism, at least allow these to cherish a marvelous and, 
in spite of all its disappointments, an efficacious fu- 
ture. It is not a question of forgetting life, that 
is too beautiful and too desirable, but rather of am- 
plifying and fertilizing it. Whatever may be the 
outcome of a generous dream, it always ennobles the 
man who has entertained it. Allow the unhappy to 
be rich in a possession that costs them only love and 
simple faith. Do not let your reason dispossess 
them of the only treasure that your greed has not 
been able to snatch from them. It is the cult of 
the future and of memory that sustains man in the 
uncertainty of the present hour. If he walks by 
instinct towards these refuges, do not turn him 
aside, and think, O priests of reason, of the warning 
of Pascal : " It is on the knowledge of the heart 
and of the instincts that Reason has to lean, and es- 
tablish there the whole of her discourse." 


I have seen thousands of men suffer and die. 
Every day I see new ones enter the somber arena and 
struggle. My part is to help them in this torment, 
to assure them aid and hope. I have a wide expe- 
rience of these things now and I know that men are 
never denied a future, even- when life is on the point 
of betraying them. 

Philosophers and poets, led astray by religion or 
by a mystical passion for death, have given the severe 
counsel that we should never conceal from the dying 
the approach of their annihilation. It is a theo- 
retical view of charity, an artificial, mischievous doc- 
trine that does not stand the test, that should not 
be put to the test. Its partisans suspect falsehood 
where there is only pity and modesty, for it is not 
the part of man to be so proud of his own judgment 
as to take away from someone with the certitude of 
life that fabulous future which is more precious than 
life itself. 

I remember, in 1915, a wounded man, who had 
just received the visit of a priest moved by praise- 
worthy intentions and a clumsy exaltation, saying 
to me suddenly, " I know now that I am going to 
die! " and beginning to weep terribly. I went to see 
the priest and reproached him for his behavior. 
" What ! " that eloquent man replied haughtily, " do 


you who are incapable of preserving this unhappy 
man's earthly life blame me for assuring him his fu- 
ture life?" Alas! Alas! I still think of the sobs 
of that wounded man; they were those of one who 
has just lost his supreme wealth and to whom noth- 
thing else can make amends. 

Soldiers who, in the full vigor of their youth, 
suffer a severe, a final mutilation experience at first 
what is like a veritable amputation of their future, 
so true is it that every part of our physical self is 
intimately bound up with the labors of our dream. 
Then, with surprising rapidity, and long before the 
disorder of the tissues has been exorcised, one sees 
them filling in the moral breach, raising up the 
crumbled wall, propping it hastily and reconstruct- 
ing, quite as new but quite complete and tightly shut, 
the sacred fortress outside which their soul remains 
vulnerable and disarmed. 

In truth, the man who is condemned to death is 
still rich in the future, even when his body sinks, ten 
times pierced by bullets, even when he has only one 
drop of blood left, one flickering spark of life. 


O present hour, magnificent, foaming fountain, 
you know very well that we shall be faithful 
to you ! With your thousand animated faces, your 
landscapes, your problems, your combats and that 


heavy burden of jostling ideas you carry with you, 
you will always attract us, you will see us all to- 
gether drinking of your waters. 

But when you no longer contain for us anything 
but anger and hatred, greed and cruelty, then indeed 
we must each of us abandon you and turn to our 
refuges ; we must each of us withdraw into the 
Thebaid where all things still respond to our voice, to 
our voice alone. 

May our fate preserve us from the greatest of all 
misfortunes ! May our refuges never lose in our 
eyes their virtue and their security ! This supreme 
affliction at times befalls us, and it is then that our 
souls, exiled from their homeland, must set them- 
selves humbly to the search for the lost grace. 


WHAT man, tell me, what man, were he sud- 
denly delivered from disgust with himself, 
from terror of the world, from the sadness of an 
age that is without pity, from remorse for a thing he 
has done, from the fear of things he has to do, what 
man, suffering from one of these evils, or from sev- 
eral of them or from all at once, would not experi- 
ence an immense relief, would not feel a certain ab- 
solution for the errors of the universe, a certain al- 
Jeyiation of his own in the contemplation of this 
little osier-bed which I descry this evening, at the 
turning of a lane? 

What is there so profound, so divine in that 
scene ? 

Nothing, nothing, no doubt. Everything, per- 
haps. For who would venture to maintain that 
there is anything in the world that might not be a 
sign for my heart and yet be nothing more? 

I was following a stone wall, an indecipherable 



wall at present, without significance, without com- 
passion, an enemy. It shut in my view and 
my thoughts, it was covered with cold mosses 
and all the dampness of winter. And then, 
all at once, the wall ended and there was a little 
valley crowned with these osiers. Yes, I mean 
crowned, for it seemed as if all its desires had been 
granted, all its aspirations satisfied, all its prayers 

Thousands of crimson branches rose in a* chorus 
toward heaven, like clusters of some smooth, straight, 
up-springing coral. All the branches rose together, 
with one brotherly impulse, like the desires of a 
world freed from ambitions and vowed to the one, 
the noblest ambition of all. But why seek for 
words, why strive to paint it? Surely it was not 
the flaming sap of the young shoots any more than 
the little rivulets smoking like censers at their feet, 
it was neither of these things that promised relief 
and deliverance. It was the entire world that mani- 
fested itself in this, its smallest fragment, just as 
the most secretive man will betray himself by the 
trembling of his little finger or the flutter of an 


I was once saved by the tarpaulin of a humble de- 
livery wagon. That tarpaulin certainly knew no 


more about it than did the men who owned it, or had 
the use of it here below. There are, in every object, 
qualities we are ignorant of and that are precisely 
those through which this object fulfils its most beau- 
tiful role in the universe, those to which it inclines 
as if toward some miraculous purpose, which are 
indeed its vocation and its true destiny. 

I remember it was a morning in February, one of 
those hopeless mornings which we feel do not deserve 
the evening and will hardly attain it. I do not 
know what I had done to myself or to my men to 
have so completely lost all courage and purpose; but 
that morning I was certainly the most destitute of 
beings and the least worthy of an act of grace. 

Yet for all that, grace was shown me, for that 
marvelous tarpaulin appeared. It was of heavy can- 
vas, yellow and green. Its color, its folds, its whole 
appearance, the form it concealed, in fact I know 
not what element in it, showed me that I still could 
live, that my faults were forgiven me, that nothing 
about me was irremediable. 

I am willing to pass for a man who is eager for 
forgiveness, a man who is satisfied with little. We 
wish to set our own value on everything, as if the 
things of the spirit meant the same thing as money, 
as if they did not depend upon quite another spirit 
than that of the accountants and geometricians. 

I met a priest, it was since the war began, 


with whom I often talked about penance and con- 
trition. I asked him one day what price he would 
ask for the remission of the heaviest burden on one's 
conscience. He answered without hesitation : 
" Three paters and three aves." This man was cor- 
rupted by the customs of the world and its au- 
thorities. He filled me with a sort of desire to in- 
sult him, and I confess I gave him some rude shocks. 
Since then I have reflected. I have not become 
reconciled to the memory of that priest, but I believe 
that grace touches us in a most unforeseen way ; it 
shines out suddenly, without any reason, like the 
radiant blue in a sky where one has not expected it. 
It manifests itself without regard to the efforts we 
make to deserve it, and the occasions it selects are 
not in proportion to our distress. But how sov- 
ereign it is, how much the most desirable of all bless- 
ings ! 

Remember, remember ! you were walking through 
the streets, a prey to some irremediable pain. Your 
poverty seemed unlimited, for it could not be palliated 
by more money, an improvement in your health or 
the renewal of a broken friendship. And yet, never- 
theless, you suddenly breathed in the wind an im- 
perceptible odor, familiar, charged with memories, 
you suddenly encountered in the color of a house, or 
in the look of an unknown face, some mysterious sign, 
and you felt that your wealth had been given back 


to you, that it flowed through you once more as the 
saving blood returns to the heart of the dying man. 
I was walking one day along the banks of the 
Aisne, the prey of an illimitable mental torture 
which, just because there was no reason for it, 
seemed incurable. The image of a bridge in the 
water suddenly gave me back my confidence in my- 
self and my accustomed joyousness. It was only a 
reflection ; but never believe those who tell you that 
these things are nothing but reflections. 


When a man who is cruelly wounded in his body or 
his spirit preserves a cheerful faith and never coases 
_to be the master of his misfortune, I say that he 
has grace. 

When a true man is able, for an hour, to contem- 
plate without uneasiness his own thoughts and ac- 
tions, I say that he is touched with grace, and I hope 
that hour may last a day and that day an entire 

Like a sailing-vessel that stretches through the air 
its slender, vibrant cables, probes the sky with its 
strong and supple masts, offers to the wind, at ever- 
varying angles, the white resistance of its sails and 
marvelously dominates all the forces of the air while 
seeming to obey them, the man who possesses grace 
enjoys a communion that is profound, perfect, ex- 


quisite, not only with whatever in the world is per- 
ceptible to us, but above all with what is unknown. 

That man weighs much in the baskets of the win- 
nower. That man does not see only within the lim- 
its of his own flesh. He fills in his own self almost 
the whole universe, participates gloriously in the in- 

I know that it often happens that the beautiful 
ship sees its sails sinking in distress and no longer 
feels its ropes trembling in the wind. The time 
comes when it stops painfully in the stupor and in- 
difference of noon. 

The time comes when the rich man suddenly finds 
himself on Job's dung-heap. The time comes when, 
without reason, grace deserts the heart. 

Wait expectantly, with sails spread like an ear, 
with rigging firm, and perhaps, where others less 
trustful would find themselves abandoned, you will 
perceive a certain relenting breeze. 

You must never lose contact with the universe if 
you wish to live in the state of grace. 


Welcome your own true thought, whatever may 
be the hour at which it visits you. If it chooses to 
rouse you in the middle of the night, rise to do it 
honor and look at it with clear eyes. 

There are some who have just missed an hour of 


greatness because they preferred to slumber under 

the warm eiderdown. The spirit called them in a 
low voice, in the darkness of the cold room ; they did 
not rise and they will never know what they might 
have become. They will try- to console themselves 
by thinking they have dreamed; will they ever con- 
sole themselves? 

There are some who, suddenly, through the mist of 
tobacco smoke, have seen their souls, like some 
long-awaited supernatural being, watching them. 

At the moment they were playing cards or read- 
ing their paper; they thought: "Wait, I'll join you 
in a moment." The game ended, or the paper 
thrown aside, the visitor had departed. 

They rushed forth in pursuit, their hearts con- 
vulsed with shame and anguish. Alas ! the deep 
melancholy glance will perhaps never shine upon 
them again. Perhaps they will never again come 
face to face with themselves. 

In the midst of pleasure, when you are enjoying 
the company of a woman or the conversation of bold, 
intelligent men, if you chance to hear the voice of 
solitude singing like a siren at your feet, leave 
everything to flee with her. 

When Epictetus said : " Our good and evil exist 
only in our own will," he misstated the problem. 


That is one way of solving it, but more often it is a 
way of assuming that it has been solved, an expe- 
dient for passing it over. 

I am not happy today ; I am not pleased with my- 
self, I am not pleased with anyone; I feel quite cer- 
tain that everything I undertake will be a failure, 
above all, above all, I do not want to undertake any- 
thing; I view all things with an unprofitable eye, an 
irritable and apparently dricd-up soul. I am driven 
to suffer myself and make others suffer. Oh ! I 
am without grace! I know it and I am far from 
admiring myself. Secretly I long to feel grace at 
last descending on my head and shoulders like a 
mantle of soft sunshine, like the honeyed perfume 
that falls from the lime-trees. 

What does that old man want? Why does he re- 
peat with a sort of obstinacy : " It depends upon you 
to make a good use of every event "? 

No doubt it depends upon me! 

But what are we to do when nothing can be blamed 
upon events? And what when, indeed, there are no 

Is it true that it depends upon me to be myself at 
such times also? Answer me, great, silent trees! 
Answer me, fir-tree, weighted down with sleet and 
dreaming Heine has told me of the palm con- 
sumed with burning heat in the tropics. 

" Drive out," replies the philosopher, " drive out 


your desires and your fears and you will never again 
suffer tyranny." 

True ; but I have only one fear : not to be the 
best man I may ; only one desire, not to give in to 

The sage shrugs his shoulders and then says in a 
gentle voice : " Bear and forbear." And he is not 
thinking only of the storms that come from without. 

He says this because he well knows that in order 
to be happy one must be visited by grace. 

All the stoics have drawn up rules of virtue. Not 
one has suggested the means that will give us the 
strength to apply them. For the wish is not enough. 
The gift is necessary, that secret impulse which is 
grace itself. 


Praise be to thee, divine world, that hast deliv- 
ered me from anger by revealing to me in time that 
trembling blossom of the convolvulus ! 

Praise be to thee, divine world, that, at the very 
limit of my fatigue, in the midst of my perils, hast 
chosen mysterious ways to light me with an inner 
smile ! 

Millions of unhappy men who are suffering at this 
moment on the fields of distracted Europe are aware 
that at the blackest moment of distress a strange 
consolation can penetrate them ; it is as if the fingers 


cluching one's heart suddenly relaxed their grip. 
There are some who call this God. Many others give 
no name to the miracle, but long for it on their knees 
all the same. 

The voice no longer speaks from the burning bush. 
Sometimes it is the sound of last year's leaves still 
rustling in the branches of an oak. Sometimes 
there is no sound ; only the speaking glance of a 
veronica in ecstasy among the April fields. 

I am quite willing to bear, but I do not wish to 
forbear. I do not wish not to meet grace halfway, 
not to seek for it in the night flooded with frosty 
perfumes, in the tossing forest where two inter- 
locked branches groan through the long hours, on 
the plateau haunted with thistles that labor with 
feverish piety to perpetuate their innumerable 

I ask only to be allowed to interrogate the earth 
like those who seek minerals and water-courses, and 
to experience every morning the green ascent of the 
spring-time over the rocky slopes. 

I do not know by what path joy will come; I ask 
only to be permitted, none the less, to go to meet 
it, for truly I cannot sit here by this mile-post at the 
cross-roads, and placidly await it. 

One joy has come to me during the war, one that 
is undoubtedly the greatest joy of my life: that of 
having a child. My reason did not revolt at it, it 


did not dare to tell me that it was foolhardy to de- 
sire a child at a time when the human world was left 
without defense against confusion, disorder and 
crime. Yes, I rejoiced to have a man-child born 
to me now when the future of men seems to be cor- 
rupted for long years to come. I even hailed the 
child as a savior. You see, the paths. of joy are as 
unknown to us as those of grace. 

I shall not forbear, therefore, and when I feel my 
heart bleeding from an unjust wound I shall go with 
respectful steps and recover myself in the world of 
solitude. I shall not ask in the name of justice, I 
shall not insist, I shall not importune ; I shall wait 
until it manifests itself and sets me free, I shall wait 
until at last it bestows upon me the grace which, like 
a fine sap, like mother's milk, it always contains. 

Solitude! I can still conquer it among a hundred 
thousand chattering companions ; I know how to 
sing to myself little songs that surround me with the 
silence of the steppes. 

I will go back again to the ravine where, the whole 
summer long, a blackbird I know of whistles that 
same liquid song that grows purer and more perfect 
from week to week. Ten notes are his whole career 
and his reason for being. Perhaps on a day that 
music will be just what my soul needs to recover its 
flight, like a stranded bark which a lazy wave has 
just set floating. 


I will go back to the spots where I have been 
happy, and I do not think this will be very impru- 
dent ; for, like the perfume a woman leaves in her 
garments, like a drop of wine in the bottom of a 
glass, a little happiness often remains attached to 

I shall go out again behind the hamlet, where I 
know that every morning a couple of turtle-doves 
mingle a plaint that secretly cuts the silence, hollows 
it with a melodious tunnel. 

And I shall stretch myself out there, my face to 
the sky, like a well-exposed vine that longs to ripen 
some fine fruit. 

I ;im saying what I shall do, with the sole purpose, 
with the deep desire, that you will all do the same, 
and that you will each turn to your favorite star; 
and all this with the earnest desire that you will not 
be content to remain sheep marked, without redemp- 
tion, for the knife. 

It requires little at times. The soul is not more 
exacting than the body. I have seen exhausted sol- 
diers whom a single swallow of brandy raised up 
again to the heights of courage. I have seen seri- 
ously wounded men brought back to life when their 
bodies were turned a little in order to facilitate the 
uncertain flow of the blood. 

The soul is no less fragile, no less sensitive. If 
the western view keeps you sad, turn lightly to the 


south. We do not know what the divine world holds 
in store. 


Happy are those who are able to pray. It is 
thus that Christians solicit grace. 

It is easy to fall on one's knees ; but to be able to 
pray one must already possess that grace which one 
implores. It is so great a gift, the gift of prayer, 
that it is almost indelicate to desire anything else 
from it. 

To drink is a small matter. To be thirsty is 

Why do the Christians, who counsel us to pray 
in order to obtain grace, never tell us what we must 
do in order to be able to pray? It is not for noth- 
ing, nevertheless, that they arrange the play of light 
and shade through their stained-glass windows, the 
odor of stones and incense, the silence of the vaults 
and the propitiatory sights of the organ, all those 
harmonious snares set for the wandering prayer. 

As for me, I shall take a staff and go out seeking 
the solitude of the world. If this world is a city 
street at dawn, that will do ! A misty dock, its 
outline broken by rails and masts, that will do ! 
A sunken road, lighted by the flowering broom, 
that will do ! The court of a barrack, the muddy en- 


closure of a prison-camp, oh ! pitiful as it may seem 
to me, may it still seem good ! 

If I can walk, straight before me or far and wide, 
I can pray. If I can see a scrap of the sky, I can 
pray. And with all nature offered to my soul, I 
can pray, I can pray in spite of everything and as 
if without willing it. I must see that osier-bed, or 
the radiant awning of that wagon, or the image of 
the bridge in the water. I must hear the moaning 
of those interlaced branches; then I am able to feel 
myself bathed in grace. 

Grace ! It is indeed the fleeting consciousness man 
has of his divinity. 

And now, now especially, and more than ever, we 
say to ourselves, man must have faith in his divinity ! 



THE beautiful legend of the multiplication of the 
loaves of bread is miraculous only in the ma- 
terial order to which we try to confine it. But the 
infinite multiplication of moral nourishment is our 
daily spectacle, our joy, our encouragement. 

We know that the possession of material goods in- 
clines us to exclusiveness, solitary satisfaction: if I 
wish to share with you this beautiful apple I hold in 
my hand, I must make up my mind to enjoy only half 
of it myself. And if there are four of us the part 
each one has will be proportionally reduced. Ah ! 
blessed would be the wonder-worker who could re- 
fresh us all with a single glass of water, stay us all 
with a single mouthful of bread. 

That miracle flashes forth every day before our 
eyes. All moral wealth seems to increase by being 
possessed in common. The more a truth is spread 
abroad the more its beauty, its prestige, and in a 
way its efficacy, grows. The veneration a hundred 



peoples throw round a painting of da Vinci's, a song 
of Gliick's, or a saying of Spinoza's has not par- 
titioned these lovely treasures but has added to their 
importance and their glory, has developed and opened 
up the whole sum of joy that lies latent in them. 
Great ideas have snrh radiant strength! They cross 
space and time like avalanches: they carry along 
with them whatever they touch. They are the only 
riches that one shares without ever dividing them. 

This fact invites each one of us to make himself 
the modest and persevering apostle of his own truths, 
the propagator of his discoveries, the dispenser of 
his moral riches. Our own interest demands it im- 
peratively, no less than the interest of others. We 
shall never be really happy until we have admitted 
and converted to our joy those whom we love; and 
we shall love them all the better for having brought 
them some joy, for being among the causes of their 

The journeys we have made alone without com- 
panions leave us a memory that is melancholy and 
without warmth. It is because we have had no one to 
whom we could communicate our admiration, our 
wonder. Seated alone before the most majestic 
landscapes, we have had no one to whom we could 
express our enthusiasm, and deprived of this expan- 
sion it has been stunted, it has remained, we might 
say, poor. Sharing it would have enriched it. 


We love solitude, indeed; it is the cold and silent 
fountain at which our soul is purified and confirmed. 
But what would it profit us to have amassed great 
riches, by the help of solitude, if we had no one to 
whom to offer them? 

It is because he feels this anxiety that man seeks 
a lasting union. Among a thousand generosities, 
love offers him the opportunity to enjoy compan- 
ionship without renouncing solitude. A happy home 
is the solitude of many a soul. The man who has 
entered into a beautiful union is sure of at least one 
person to whom he can give the best that he possesses. 


Perhaps you will say to me : " How can I be an 
apostle when I have in myself only a wavering faith? 
I would enjoy being generous, but I am obliged to 
beg from the generosity of others. Such advice is 
for those rich souls who, precisely because they are 
rich, have no need of advice. It is with this kind of 
fortune as it is with money, it crowns those who al- 
ready possess it! My soul is poor and timid; what 
sort of comfort would it be for other souls that are 
poor and timid also?" 

O my friend, "how deceived you are in yourself! 
How much like ingratitude your modesty seems ! 
First of all, let me tell you that the heart that doubts 
its resources is rich without knowing it. The pas- 


sion of humility weighs it down ; let it free itself 
without becoming proud ! In the realm of the in- 
telligence, you have surely observed, it is only actual 
imbeciles who never doubt their faculties. The man 
who can admit his own insufficiency at once gives 
proof of a rare perspicacity. In the same way, if 
you think you are poor it is because you are not. 
The only natures that are truly arid are those who 
do not recognize and never will recognize their own 

This morning you went out at dawn to take up 
your duties. In the marsh that slumbers along the 
edge of the road there were such delicate green and 
purple reflections that you were struck by them. 
You spoke to me about them, very subtly and sensi- 
tively, as soon as you were able to see me. You 
were generous with me. You shared your good for- 
tune with me. Thank you ! 

Who spoke to me about Faisne's unhappiness? 
Who suddenly opened my eyes and made me realize 
the profound misery of that soul? It was you! I 
am still touched by your affectionate insight, I still 
marvel at your fortune. 

You remember that night when we were lying 
stretched out together in the fields, looking up at a 
sky that was rippling with milky light. You said 
nothing to me, but I understood that evening that 
you were possessed, to the point of intoxication, 


with an immense, terrible idea, that of infinity. 
Thanks to your silence, I shared with you that over- 
whelming treasure. 

Who lent me that beautiful Swedish book I did 
not know? Who spoke to me so enthusiastically 
about it ? It was you, you again ! 

Who sings to me, when I am tired, that song as 
poignant and serene as a breath that has come from 
beyond the midnight oceans? You know very well, 
my friend, it is you. 

I could tell you of a thousand instances of your 
generosity, a thousand apostolic words that have 
issued from your lips. 

Ah! my friend, can you disavow such riches? Can 
you show at the same time such bitterness and such 

Every day you discover a means of transforming 
into happiness the elements that others possess and 
neglect. Do not hesitate, therefore : show them the 
fruitful use they ought to make of their blessings. 

And do not ask any other recompense than the 
pleasure of having been the giver, the initiator. 

The total amount of joy that prevails on the face 
of our world is of great importance to you and to 
me. One must always labor to augment it, whoever 
the direct beneficiaries may be. There is no one who, 
in the end, will not catch its echo, who will not re- 
ceive his own personal profit from it. 


And that is also why, in the present immense mis- 
ery of the world, the selfish pleasure-seekers feel 
themselves ill at ease, even when their untimely pleas- 
ures are seen by nobody. 


If you will, we can begin with the resolution never 
to undeceive anyone who thinks he possesses any- 

There are some who make it their care and pride 
to deprive their neighbors of those illusions that 
Ibsen calls " the vital illusions." The characteristic 
of these illusions is that they cannot be replaced. 
To tear them away leaves a man mutilated, without 
any possible reparation. 

Young people, assuredly, have a very exuberant 
sap and all sorts of encumbering shoots. Skilful 
and careful shears may well cut off, here and there, 
these over-greedy branches and the tree will bear 
heavier and more fragrant fniit. 

But can you without guilt take away his wealth 
from that old man whose illusion is his only pleas- 
ure? Beware of cutting off all its leaves from that 
old trunk that will never bring forth again and has 
nothing but its foliage with which to subsist and 
feel the sun. 

Distrust those men who have what is like a false 
passion for truth. They are swollen with presump- 


tuous vanity. They do not know that real truth 
exists only where there is faith, even faith without 
an object. Of what importance is the object? It is 
in faith itself that our grandeur lies. 

In my childhood, I often used to stop in to see a 
certain humble, white-haired shopkeeper. She vege- 
tated in a dark little shop and was always sitting 
behind her window, where the dust lay thick over 
the toys and trinkets. Her business was very poor, 
but she loved to say at night : " The passers-by were 
very good today. They looked in the window a 
great deal." 

I noticed, in fact, that nearly all who went by 
turned toward the dark shop a long, dreamy look, 
full of unusual interest, that sometimes caused them 
to stop short. 

One day, as I was myself passing before the poor 
little display, I suddenly understood what it was the 
passers-by looked at so kindly : it was their own faces 
reflected in the dark window-pane. 

I was still very young, but I realized vaguely that 
it would never do to disclose this disastrous discov- 
ery to my old friend. 


But this passive good will is not enough. It is 
not enough not to harm things. Marcus Aurelius, I 
believe, has said: "One is often as unjust in doing 


nothing as in doing what one does." You must un- 
derstand, therefore, that not to share your inner 
fortune is, in some sort, to rob those who surround 

We must first declare our blessings : we must try 
to do this without shame and without arrogance. 
Those who enjoy an intense and efficacious inner life 
draw from it a great deal of pride ; they would gladly 
communicate it if they did not know that these treas- 
ures seem ridiculous to the common men ; it is really 
shame, therefore, that prevents them from being 

In spite of the cry of Hamlet, it is through words 
that one discovers and possesses the world. 

The rhetoricians have done their work so well 
that at times words seem dry, empty of pulp, empty 
of juice. They are no longer nourishing food, they 
are discordant sounds. 

It needs only a little confidence and generosity to 
restore their meaning and their weight. Then they 
become precious and faithful. We call them, like 
devoted persons, to our aid ; they come at once out 
of the shadow and show themselves docile to our 

Marcus Aurelius, of whom we have just spoken, 
has said this also : " I wish always to define or de- 
scribe the object that presents itself to my thoughts, 
so as to see, distinctly and in its nakedness, what it 


is in its substance, considered as a whole, and sepa- 
rately in all its parts, so as to be able to tell myself 
its true name as well as the true names of the parts 
of which it is composed and into which it can be 
resolved. For nothing is so suited to elevate the 
soul as to analyze as much as possible, with method 
and justice, everything that one meets with in life, 
and always to examine each object so as to be able 
to recognize at once to what order of things it be- 
longs, of what use it, is, and what is its importance 
in the universe and, relatively, to man." 

It is with words that this task is accomplished. 

I have noted another beautiful expression on this 
subject; it is from M. Anatole France. "Words," 
he says, " are ideas. ... I think the highest race 
in the world is that which has the best syntax. It 
often happens that men cut each other's throats 
over words they do not understand. If they under- 
. stood each other they would ombraro rach other." 

Be very sure then that the words of which we 
make use are deserving of all our care, all our re- 
spect. They are the witnesses of our thoughts. 
They will betray us if we degrade them to base uses. 

Choose them with great tenderness ; that is a qual- 
ity as enviable as precision. And by means of these 
choice words, loyally express your fortune. 

Tell what you have discovered, what you know. 
In affirming your possession you render it sure, 


positive. You labor for others and for yourself. 
You give form to your treasure and yield it, as if 
perfected, to those who truly wish to avail them- 
selves of it. 

Yes, in acting in this way, you are also working 
for your own profit. Do not let us leave s this burn- 
ing subject too quickly. 

If I were not afraid of giving a conviction the 
form of a whim, I should say : " You do your work 
and it does good to you." 

Among the ideas that are dear to you and that 
you are glad to express are not only certainties, 
verified results, the testimony of experience. There 
are many wishes, many longings, too. By virtue of 
being enunciated, these end by reacting upon you, 
by gently imprisoning you. ( When you speak of vir- 
tue, or happiness, or the spirit of adventure or cour- 
age, you further certain things that are indeed your 
own; you further also many other things that you 
passionately wish to have become your own, your 
unique and recogni/od quality.. By virtue of express- 
ing them, it comes to pass that they in turn react 
upon you ; a moment arrives when you are morally 
constrained to become the product of your opinions. 
In this sense your work does for you the good that 
you have done for it. 


Admit, therefore, that if it pleases you to see and 
to paint your life in generous, harmonious colors, it 
is inevitable that harmony and generosity should 
little by little imprint their stamp on your serious 
thoughts and on your acts. 

Therefore speak, speak of your dream. Every 
time someone tells you : " You do not live up to what 
you say," think, with a smile : " Not yet, undoubt- 
edly ; but I feel sure that one day my words, that is 
to say, my thoughts, will prove to be truer than my 

When you have tried and proved this method, you 
will attempt to bestow it upon others. 

To that end strive to win a reputation among un- 
certain, hesitating people. Be prudent: this is the 
time when it is of great importance to choose the 
right ideas and words. But if you see one of your 
companions torn between two opposing reputations, 
imprison him in the better of the two. 

I once knew a man who had done many good acts 
and a considerable number of reprehensible ones. 
One day, when I saw him hesitating between these 
two different tendencies, I began to address certain 
phrases to him that opened somewhat like this : " You 
who are so good. . . . You who have done such and 
such fine things." . . . And the result was that that 
man became really good, in order not to betray the 
reputation he had gained, 


I foresee that you are about to pronounce the 
word vanity. Stop a moment! It is not a base 
stratagem that causes a barren soul to bring forth 
a fine harvest. If I had called the attention of that 
man to what was mean and sordid in his character, 
he would have perhaps become a villain altogether, 
and that would have been a shame for him, for me, 
and for everybody. 


We have discovered together, you will recall, that 
the world is offered to all men that it may be pos- 
sessed by each with the help of all. You see, then, 
that irf your modest role of apostle there is a means 
of making others rich while securing their help for 
your own undertakings. 

Estimate your wealth according to the impor- 
tance of what you give. Dispossess yourself boldly. 
Everything will be returned to you at the right time 
and a hundredfold. 

If the great apostles were able to bring the good 
news, it was because they had faith; but nothing 
could have exalted their faith more than to bring the 
good news. 

If you have been interested in something you have 
road, in a walk, if you have been astonished at some 
spectacle, invite all those whom you know to read 
what you have read, to take that walk, to con- 


template that spectacle. Show some discernment in 
your invitations. Distrust the sceptics a little, the 
ironical, cruel, or contradictory spirits. Distrust 
them, but do not abandon them : they are the strayed 
sheep whose return ought to rejoice your heart su- 
premely. When you have made them admit : " Yes, 
there's something really fine ! Yes, there's something 
interesting, there's something worth the pain of liv- 
ing ! " you may fall asleep with a smile ; your day will 
not have been lost. 

At times, you will make a discovery so rare, so 
delicate that, by some secret warning, you will know 
it cannot be communicated, that it is strictly in- 
dividual, that it ought to re^nain as a private rela- 
tion between the world and your soul. In that case, 
keep your own counsel. Perhaps a day will conic 
when your thought will have gained in precision 
through being amplified; on that day you will be 
mysteriously informed that your treasure has lost 
its private character, that it has become suitable for 
sustaining your communion with others. When that 
day comes, speak forth. Until that day, however, 
be patient ; do not fall into the error of those spirits 
who are called obscure because they offer us impres- 
sions that have been insufficiently ripened and ex- 
perienced, impressions that are not for all humanity. 

On the other hand, when someone offers you one of 
these obscure impressions, do not reject it, do not 


laugh with disdain. Force yourself to feel what has 
been pictured for you in this faulty fashion. You 
will do your partner a service in visualizing his dis- 
covery, and you will perhaps be able to increase your 
own stock. Perhaps there will be something worth 
seizing and understanding at the bottom of it. 

Always seek communion. It is the most precious 
thing men possess. In this respect, the symbol of the 
religions is indeed full of majesty. Where there is 
communion there is something that is more than 
human, there is surely something divine. 

When you deem that you have grasped a truth do 
not forget, in communicating it to others, that there 
are two conditions of truth. Any truth one receives 
is but a small fortune in comparison with the value 
of that which one experiences. Therefore persuade 
those you love into the experiencing of truths, into 
the religious, courageous, persistent experiencing of 
the well-beloved truth. 


One dreams of a life in which everyone would be the 
apostle of what he possesses and where all would be 
the disciples of each% 

If you wish to be an apostle, begin by never mis- 
laying any of your wealth. 

I once had a friend who said to me almost every 
day: "This morning I had a beautiful thought; but 


I can't find it again, I've forgotten it, I've lost it." 

You have a purse to contain your money ; conde- 
scend to have a scrap of paper on which you can put 
your thoughts, where you can set them in order. 
It is a slight means to what will eventually be a great 
end. Be economical of your treasures so that you 
may be lavish of them at the opportune moment. 
Do not lose what you wish to give away. 

You are like the seeker after gold, on your knees 
by the bank of a river that rolls with sand and with 

The rushing flood of your soul flows by, and you 
watch it with fear and delight. Every sort of thing 
is in it : mud, grass, gold, flowers, formless and name- 
less debris. Gather to one side what you deejn 
worthy to be preserved, do not let it escape in the 

This mass of thoughts that crowd and elbow one 
another, this storm that tumbles its way over you, 
this unending dream that you have when you are 
awake, when your soul abandons itself to its nat- 
ural, spontaneous impulses, there, indeed, is matter 
to terrify you! So many things appear and are 
swallowed up again that scandalize or horrify you; 
so many contradictions bewilder you, so many jewels 
shine furtively forth, that you are by turns filled 
with consternation, stupefied, dazzled. 

You must choose among all these things. You 


must draw out of the current what you recognize as 
of value to you, and let the rest sink. 

I beg you, keep the reckoning of your own soul. 
Keep a little book in your pocket that is carefully 
brought up to date. And do not trust your memory ; 
it is a net full of holes; the most beautiful prizes 
slip through it. 

You must not have too much fear of not being 
up to your task when you are approaching great 
problems and great works. 

That is something worth meditating for him who 
sets himself to obtaining possession of the world, 
who wishes to invite his companions to do the same. 

Though it may have all the appearance of naivete, 
confidence is less to be feared than the terror of 
ridicule that paralyzes so many souls at the begin- 
ning of the most beautiful adventures. 

The fear of enthusiasm does as much harm as ob- 
vious wickedness. 

It is better to pass for a simpleton and become 
the laughing-stock of the disillusioned than to miss 
the opportunity to serve as the apostle of one's be- 
loved verities. It is better to squander one's for- 
tune than to run the risk of being the only one to 
profit from it. There will always be a farthing to 
fall into eager hands. 

The main thing is to be, above everything else, a 
man of good will. 


The true enemy, if there is any such, is the phari- 
see, the man of outward observance, he who adopts 
every religion as a matter of fashion, who speaks 
frequently and passionately of his soul in the same 
way in which he speaks of his necktie. 


If you are only two against a thousand in leading 
this beautiful, pure life, rejoice that there are at 
least two of you and do not despair of your course 
of action. 

Is it not Renan who has uttered this profound 
saying : " The great things in any race are usually 
accomplished by the minority "? 

Do not rejoice because there are slaves. Let their 
example be a fearful warning to you ; let it fill you 
with an overmastering desire to free them from servi- 

To the apostle Paul is ascribed that disquieting 
utterance of the conquering soldier : " Oportet 
hajreses esse." 

Yes, undoubtedly, whoever wishes to fight needs an 

The dazzling chance of such conquests is not, alas, 
the thing you will be most likely to miss. But every 
t is v\in 'hat docs not tond toward peace! 

One thinks with ecstasy of the joy of a universal 


communion, from which no one would be left out, 
in which no one would be the victim. 

Must there be heretics? Yes! To convince 
them, but not to vanquish them, and still less to put 
them to the stake. 


" The knowledge of external things does not make up for 
me, in times of affliction, for my ignorance of the moral 
world; but my knowledge of the moral world always con- 
soles me for my ignorance of external things." Pascal. 

It has come, the time of affliction! 

Whatever may be the outcome of this war, it 
marks a period of profound despair for humanity. 
However great may be the pride of victory, however 
generous such a victory may be, under whatever 
light the distant consequences may be presented to 
us, we live, none the less, in a blighted age, on an 
earth that will be devastated for long years, in the 
midst of a society that is decimated, ruined, crushed 
by its wounds. 

Among all our disillusionments, if there is one that 
remains especially painful to us it is the sort of 
bankruptcy of which our whole civilization is con- 

Man had never been prouder than at the beginning 

of the twentieth century of the discoveries he had 



realized in the domain of what Pascal called " the 
external sciences." 

We must admit that there was some excuse for this 
intoxication, this error. In its struggle with matter, 
humanity had experienced a success that was so dar- 
ing, so disconcerting, and above all so repeated that 
it lost a just conception of its adversary and forgot 
that its principal enemy was itself. 

Events have recalled this to it in a flash. In the 
last year or two it has expressed its discomfiture 
through millions of simple lips. It has asked with 
anguish how " a century so advanced in civilization " 
could give birth to this demoralizing catastrophe. 
Stupefied, it sees turning against itself all those 
inventions which, it had been told, were made for its 
happiness. For hardly one is absent. Even those 
that seemed the highest in moral significance, even 
they, have contributed in some degree to the dis- 
aster. Only the fear of creating an uncontrollable 
situation has prevented certain of the belligerents 
from forming an alliance with the very germs of 
epidemic diseases and thus debasing the noblest of 
all the acquisitions of science. 

A doubt has grown up in all hearts : what, after all, 
is this civilization from which we draw such pride 
and which we claim the right to impose upon the 
peoples of the other continents? What is this thing 
that has suddenly revealed itself as so cruel, so 


dangerous, as destitute of soul as its own machines? 

Eyes have been opened, spirits have been illum- 
inated: never did barbarism, in all its brutality and 
destructiveness, attain results as monstrous as those 
of which our industrial and scientific civilization has 
proved itself capable. Is it indeed anything but a 
travesty on barbarism? 

What inclines one to believe this is that the peoples 
which have dedicated to the gods of the factory and 
the laboratory the most fervent and the most vain- 
glorious worship have shown themselves in this way 
by far the cruellest, the most fertile in inhumane 
and disgraceful inventions. 

M. Bergson has said, of the intelligence, that it 
is " characterized by a natural incomprehension of 
life." To this one might add: and by a complete 
incomprehension of happiness, which is the very aim 
of life. 

With its retinue of ingenious inventions and clever 
complications, the intelligence plays the part of 
something irresponsible or criminal in the great dis- 
order of the world. It seems not only incapable of 
giving happiness to men, but actually adapted to 
bewilder them, corrupt them, set them quarreling. 
It knows how to provoke conflicts ; it is unable either 
to exorcise them or to resolve them. 

Scientific and industrial civilization based upon the 
intelligence is condemned. For long years it has 


monopolized and distracted all human energies. Its 
reign has ended in an immense defeat. 


It is toward the resources of the heart that our 
hope turns. Betrayed by this clever intelligence, 
whose formidable works have at times the very look 
of stupidity itself, we aspire to the reign of the 
heart ; all our desires turn toward a moral civiliza- 
tion, such as is alone capable of exalting us, satisfy- 
ing us, protecting us, assuring us the true burgeoning 
of our race. 

It is by juggling with words that people have been 
able to attach the idea of true progress to the de- 
velopment of the mechanical, chemical or biological 
sciences. Trim progress concerns nothing but the 
soul, it remains independent of the expedients and 
the practices of science. This latter is able to tri- 
umph even when the true progress, the ascent of 
mankind toward happiness, is interrupted and 
thwarted in its profoundest tendencies. 

There are not lacking people to tell us that the 
war will mark with precision the advent of n new 
world, that it has bought in the blood and the flame 
the moral elevation necessary for a fruitful and final 
peace. We cannot share this optimism of official 
eloquence. It is not the performance of tasks of 
murder that opens to men the road to justice and 


converts them to good customs. Humanity must 
grow unaccustomed to crime, and it is not the armed 
intelligence that can accomplish this miracle. The 
pacifying work of the war will remain in peril if 
everything that is healthy and generous in humanity 
does not labor to dethrone this scientific civiliza- 
tion which still abuses society after having reduced 
it to helplessness. 

I consider as negligible the objection of the stoics 
who say that these miseries do not depend upon us 
and that we ought obstinately to seek our happiness 
through them, isolate our happiness from the sur- 
rounding degradation. No ! These miseries do de- 
pend upon us. In spite of its disdainful nobility, the 
stoic resignation has here too much the look of 

This moral civilization, when its hour comes, will 
revive Christianity and propagate it ; it will not leave 
the human race in the abandonment of the desperate 
misery of today. 


The naturalists and the sociologists have con- 
tributed to spread this idea that moral progress is, 
for individuals, a function of the anatomical com- 
plex, and for societies of the complex of habits, in- 
stitutions and industries. It is on this understand- 
ing that they have undertaken the classification of 


species and arranged the various human hier- 

That is a view entirely external to things, it can- 
not be verified as regards individual thought, it is a 
sheer fabrication as regards collectivities : the war is 
a bloody refutation of it. 

If we mean by moral progress that which affects 
the conditions of happiness, nothing permits us to 
conjecture what advantages have been realized in this 
direction by the vegetable and animal organisms that 
have not chosen us as confidents. Habits, as we 
observe them, cannot be a criterion, even if we admit 
that we ought to seek for evidence among them ; 
they seem as if designed to baffle all theories. 

Those animals whose anatomical structure closely 
resembles ours, not to say that it is exactly analo- 
gous, to ours, such as cattle and sheep, give proof of 
a moral activity that is insignificant beside the real 
genius shown by the bee and so many other insects 
whose nervous systems are still rudimentary in com- 
parison with those of the mammals. 

Certain sea animals, the barnacles, have suffered, 
because of their sedentary existence, an anatomical 
regression. We know that the mobile larva? of the 
barnacles possess more complicated organisms than 
those of the adult and stationary animal. To con- 
clude from that that this anatomical regression is a 
lowering of the species is to assume a great deal, and 


it is to accord to movement a very debatable signifi- 

There exist species of plant life, especially among 
the conifers and the ferns, which, for thousands of 
centuries, seem to have remained in an almost stable 
anatomical and functional stage. These species are 
none the less very widely scattered and very long- 
lived, very adaptable. They offer an outward ap- 
pearance of happiness and prosperity. On the other 
hand, nothing permits us to affirm that certain 
species, like the orchids, which have undergone a 
delirious evolution resulting in forms of extreme an- 
atomical complexity, have attained a true progress, 
have improved, that is to say, their moral destiny : 
we see them subject to innumerable external servi- 
tudes. Their reproduction, even, is only possible 
thanks to the intervention of outside agencies and is 
fraught with perils. A seductive argument that 
smacks of anthropomorphism inclines us to believe 
that these species, intoxicated with their material 
difficulties, ought to have a less free and less serene 
philosophical existence. 

The complexity of the individual organism, which 
corresponds strictly to the political, economic and 
scientific complexity of societies, adds neither to the 
possibilities of life, nor to its scope of activity, nor 
to its hopes. 

Certain fish, the pleuronectes, have sought their 


salvation in a very bold, precocious development that 
ends in a displacement of their eyes, of their mouth 
and in a profound disorder of their original sym- 
metry. Looking at them, one has the impression 
that this development has thrown them into an im- 
passe, into a cul-de-sac from which it would be diffi- 
cult for them to escape into a new evolution ; one has 
the impression that this whole biological stratagem 
has considerably restricted the destiny of the species. 
Besides, and the naturalists know it very well, the 
species that are most highly evolved, most dif- 
ferentiated, to employ the consecrated expression, 
are in a certain sense the oldest species, imprisoned 
in their own tradition and scarcely to be counted 
upon for a new adaptation, a profound reformation 
of their organs and their habits. 


This digression, too long for our restlessness, but 
too succinct in view of the facts it involves, raises 
several criticisms. 

One might, in the first place, object that evolution 
is a thing which species undergo and which they 
cannot influence themselves. If that is true, hu- 
manity finds itself forced into an adventure against 
which it is puerile and presumptuous to contend. 

This attitude implies a submissive fatalism that de- 
nies both our sense of experience and our thirst for 


perfection. We are apt to construe our lessons in 
such a way as to draw instruction from them. We 
have shown this in many moments of crisis, and we 
feel a certain repugnance to thinking that we cannot 
turn to our own profit the most majestic lesson that 
has ever been given to men. 

Certain minds, on the other hand, have concluded 
that humanity is altogether too old, too highly 
evolved a species to be capable of ever again re- 
nouncing what is fundamental in its inveterate in- 
tellectual traditions, its scientific acquisitions and the 
customs that have sprung from them. 

If this conception of the world did not appear as 
if stamped with lassitude and scepticism, it would 
seem to leave us in the presence of a desperate al- 
ternative: either the acceptance of a life without 
restraint, given over to every sort of folly, exposed 
to every sort of lapse into crime, or the solitary 
search for an oblivion that only waits for death. 

But will the peoples who have struggled so fiercely 
for their material interests remain disarmed in the 
face of the moral danger that threatens the very 
morning of the race, will they undertake nothing 
truly efficacious for the sake of posterity? 

That is the anxiety that haunts generous souls 

The political arrangements that will mark the end 
of this war will be of no real interest if the minds 


that control the spiritual direction of the peoples do 
not labor, from now on -and in the future, to modify 
the meaning of the ideas of progress and civilization. 

We cannot believe that humanity is so deeply sunk 
in its convictions and its intellectual habits as to 
remain forever incapable of sudden change and 

The human world has already passed through im- 
portant crises ; it has already been forced several 
times to reshape the idea it had formed of culture 
and civilization. 

It has always been amid its ruins that it has medi- 
tated the conditions of a new life. If it is true that 
ruins demand the revolution of customs, let us admit 
that the heart of man has never been more urgently 
entreated than today. 

In any case, there is no question of giving up those 
customs that form an integral part of our vital econ- 
omy. It would be fantastic to consider the regenera- 
tion of a society that was deprived, for example, of 
the means of communication which have obtained for 
a century and which we could scarcely abandon now 
without suicide. But it is fair to consider how great 
and dangerous is the hold of the false needs which 
the study of the " external sciences " creates in us 
and not to permit our ideal activity to be blindly en- 
slaved any longer by our material ingenuity. 

There exist in our nature ardent forces that one 


cannot condemn without appeal and that will mani- 
fest themselves against all discipline. 

The passion of the sciences must be deeply-rooted 
when we see men, in love with love, peace, humanity, 
consecrating themselves, as if in their own despite, 
under the cover of some abstract sophistry, to tasks 
whose results may contribute seriously to the wretch- 
edness and the debasement of society. 

If one might gather together all the faculties of 
the spirit for the single cause of happiness ! 

At least, and from now on, let us cease to consider 
that the monstrous development of industrial science 
represents civilization ; otherwise let us withdraw 
from this word its whole moral significance and seek 
another for the needs of our ideal. 

Let us cease humiliating moral culture, the only 
pledge we have of peace and happiness, before the 
irresponsible and unruly genius that haunts the 
laboratories. Scientific civilization, let us say, to 
allow it to keep this name for a moment, has been 
for us so prodigal in bitterness that we can no longer 
abandon it uncontrolled to its devouring activity. 
We must make use of it as a servant and cease any 
longer to adore it as a goddess. 

We must revise all our definitions, all our values, 
our whole vocabulary. 


All fervent spirits should set themselves to this 
work, and their task will be all the heavier the more 
widely extended they are assured their influence will 

We must strive to make our stunned humanity re- 
alize that happiness does not consist in travelling at 
the rate of sixty miles an hour, rising up into the 
air on a machine or talking under the ocean, but 
above all else in being rich in beautiful thoughts, con- 
tented with its work, honored with warm affections. 

We must restore the cult of the arts which con- 
tribute to the purification of the soul, which are con- 
soling in times of affliction and remain, by their na- 
ture, incapable of serving ignoble ends. 

We must employ our strength to altering the 
meaning of the words " riches," " possessions," " au- 
thority," to showing that they are things of the soul 
and that the material acceptance of these terms cor- 
responds to realities that are perfidious and ironical. 
We must at the same time transform the ideas of 
benevolence and ambition, open a new career to these 
virtues, create for them new ends and new satisfac- 
tions. Those who consider such a program with 
irony or scepticism make a great mistake. Its reali- 
zation may seem illusory, but it will undoubtedly be- 
come a necessity. The material goods at the dis- 
posal of humanity will find themselves considerably 
reduced both by the destruction of which they have 


been the object and by the long arrest of the pro- 
duction of them. 

Their rarity and their growing expensiveness will 
be the source of grave and almost insoluble conflicts, 
which new effusions of blood will only make more 

Humanity can hurl against this terrible future a 
defiance full of grandeur. It can, under the influence 
of its spiritual masters, seek its happiness in a wise 
and passionate transformation of its desires. 

Let us not urge it toward resignation but toward 
the conquest of the true riches, those that assure it 
the moral possession of the world. 


The economists, whose science the war has so often 
tested, are laboring to define what will be the con- 
ditions of life in the period that will follow the world 
war ; their estimates leave little room for the hope of 
an agreeable and easy material existence ; they hold 
over the mass of men, conquered and conquerors 
alike, the menace of desperate labor and slight and 
wretched returns. 

These learned researches, added to the similar con- 
clusions of common sense, do not seem to discourage 
the laborious race of men. They have been told they 
must work, and even now, while they are struggling 
against a hundred fearful perils, they are mentally 


preparing to earn their difficult living, if only the 
war does not take away their lives. 

The modern industrial monster sets these condi- 
tions in advance. We already know that competi- 
tion will be pitiless, we know too that enjoyment will 
only be for the highest bidder. Individuals, at the 
sight of this future, mutually urge one another to be 
stubborn. The world is preparing to take up again, 
obstinately, the old order that has cost it so many 
trials. As yet no one speaks of a new life. 

There will be so many voices to praise these des- 
perate resolutions, so many books will be written to 
persuade men to persevere in their old hatreds that a 
timid voice may well raise itself to protest against 
the consummation of the error. 

A man whom I love and esteem above all others 
once said to me: 

" When peace is signed and I return home, I shall 
have to give up all the distractions I used to have if 
I wish to work as much as will be necessary to re- 
cover a situation as good as the one I had be- 

Believe me, O my friend who said these words to 
me, I love work too well to bl.'ime your decision; but 
I was thinking only of your happiness, and it was 
of your situation that you spoke to me. Are you 
sure that they are rightly related, those two words, 
those two ideas? What do you hope from the future 


if you are not going to allow a large place in it to 
the soul? 

What compensation will be left for our passion of 
today if we take up all our prejudices again, if we 
return to our own vomit? 

The old civilization seems condemned. To break 
with it, we must first of all seek our individual satis- 
faction outside money, our happiness outside the 
whirlpool of pleasure. We must flee deliberately 
from the tyranny of luxury. In this way even the 
events of the present oblige us to seek our true path. 
Must we keep blindly and obstinately to the ways 
of slavery? We have slighted the best sources of 
interest, joy and wealth; shall we misprize them now 
that they remain the only fresh and faithful things 
in the aridity of our time? Shall we neglect our 
souls again to seek a false fortune that can only be- 
tray us? Shall we contend with exasperated brutes 
over possessions we know to be unstable and decep- 

No ! No ! Here should lie the lesson and the one 
benefit of this war: that we should undeceive our- 
selves about ourselves and about our ends ! Let us 
not devote our courage to choosing a ferocious disci- 
pline devoid of the ideal. Let us once for all reject 
our calculating and demoralizing intelligence. Let 
us organize, in the peace that returns, the reign of 
the heart. 



The search for happiness cannot ignore the con- 
ditions of the material life. Undoubtedly, well-being, 
comfort, dispose us to a happy view of things; but 
will they ever replace What a poet has called " the 
contented heart "? 

The Anglo-American peoples, susceptible as they 
are to all the moral and religious revolutions, have 
applied themselves to altering the original sense of 
simple well-being so as to identify it with luxurious 
comfort. That is a way of giving a moral aspect to 
pleasure, making an honest bargain with the corrup- 
tions of money. 

The exigencies of this sort of life have largely con- 
tributed to involving these peoples in a frenzied 
whirlwind of business that wears a man out and be- 
wilders him. The anonymous writer of the " Letters 
of an Elderly American to a Frenchman " says to 
my countrymen : " Your most beautiful country- 
houses and your best hotels are occupied most of 
the time by foreigners, while your own people have to 
content themselves with miserable little cheap holes. 
Isn't it absurd ! " Perhaps, O Elderly American, 
but that absurdity is dear to my heart. May the 
God of journeys always turn my path away from 
the tainted spots where rise those buildings in which 
the existence you think so enviable is passed. If we 


are to consecrate our friendship we ought to discuss 
the value of words : what you call happiness does not 
tempt me. 

The love of nature, the taste for those simple, 
healthy joys that were so vaunted by the philoso- 
phers of our eighteenth century have been the laugh- 
ing-stock of our contemporary writers. A laugh- 
able excess has led, by reaction, to a furious and 
ignoble excess. 

The dramatists and novelists of our time who, by 
the quality of their opinions or by their political 
positions are ostensibly laboring for a moral or re- 
ligious end, have betrayed, in most of their works, a 
servile and ill-concealed love of luxury. It is use- 
less to give names ; let us say only that none of the 
modern novels of certain of our authors lack those 
descriptions and professions of faith that reveal the 
quivering longing of the pauper for the delights and 
enjoyments on which all his eager desires are fixed. 

It is partly to the influence of this literature that 
our old world owes the headlong rush of all classes 
of humanity toward those pleasures that are only the 
phantom** of happiness nnr T will nev^r be anything 

If genius wishes to consecrate itself to a labor that 
is truly reconstructive, truly pacific, it must discover 
other subjects for its works. 



If the future laws governing labor do not allow 
enough time for the cultivation and the flourishing 
of the soul, a sacred struggle will become inevitable. 

The organizers of the modern world, who have 
shown themselves powerless to avert war and did not 
realize the vanity of our old civilization, do not yet 
seem to foresee the urgency of radical changes in the 
moral education of the peoples. 

They continue to talk to us about the superhuman 
efforts we must make in order to redeem their faults. 

No one shrinks before these efforts. Society is 
weary of crime but not of peaceful tasks. Every- 
one prepares with joyous energy to take up his 
former position and his tools again. 

It rests with us all to mitigate the severity of eco- 
nomic conflicts by working to transform the current 

/ o 

idea of happiness. 

The possessors of material wealth have, in general, 
for centuries, given to those whom they employ and 
direct so scandalous and basely immoral an example 
that they themselves are the principal fomenters of 
the attacks which they will henceforth have to un- 

In the machinery of modern industry, work has 
lost a great many of its attractive virtues: all the 


methods in force tend to diminish the part played by 
the soul and the heart, and the workman, imprisoned 
in an almost mechanical function, no longer expects 
from work the personal satisfaction he once obtained ; 
as a poet has said : " His empty labor is the fate he 
fights against." 

Certain American methods have based their theory 
upon a clever sophism; they exaggerate the auto- 
matic under the pretext of thus cutting short the 
length of the work. That is not a happy solution, 
to cut short the hours of labor by emptying it of all 
joy, of all professional interest. It is better to un- 
dertake a long piece of work with relish than to hurry 
through a short task with repugnance. 

The specialization that is rendered necessary by 
the very extent of scientific and industrial activity 
remains a dangerous thing, especially among an old 
race of encyclopedists like ourselves. 

However that may be, the peoples consent to yield 
themselves to the discretion of the modern world. 
May the monster leave them some scraps of a liberty 
that is still honorable enough for them to think of 
cultivating their souls. There will not be lacking 
men of good will who will be glad to devote them- 
selves to directing this liberty, to transforming the 
meaning and the demands of joy, propagating a cul- 
ture which, unlike those old errors, will support edu- 
cation more readily than instruction, men who will 


more often address themselves to the heart than to 
the disastrous reason. 


France has suffered, suffers and will suffer more 
deeply than all the other countries of the world. 
She is at once the altar and the holocaust. She has 
sacrificed her men, her cities, and her soil. It is in 
the heart of her beautiful fields that the devastating 
storm whirls and roars. 

In the depths of my soul I hope that, because of 
this great grief, it will be France that will give the 
signal for redemption. I hope that the reign of the 
heart will begin just here where the old civilization 
will leave imperishable traces of its murderous folly. 

The resources of the French people in persever- 
ance, in self-reliance, in goodness, in subtle delicacy 
are so great that one feels a word would suffice to 
rally all hearts and give them their bearings. One 
feels that at the mere phrase " moral civilization " 
thousands and thousands of noble heads will nod ap- 
proval, thousands of hands will reach out to find each 

People who have obstinate views on the political 
meaning of wars, on the eminently economic nature of 
the peril that has been run by humanity, and on the 
efficacy of the industrial and scientific civilization, 
will not fail to proclaim that France ought first of 


all to return to its furious task and apply itself to 
surpassing the peoples that have outstripped it along 
this path. 

But France has always been the country of initia- 
tion and revelation. It is the chosen land of spiritual 
revolutions. May the bloody baptism it has received 
give it precedence in the discussion of the future ! 

Do you wish it to lose the glorious rank it holds in 
the moral order, at the head of the nations, that it 
may fall in line behind the peoples who are enslaved 
by automatism and swear allegiance to a worn-out, 
condemned, bankrupt social and economic religion? 

If the destiny of our country is to make a human- 
ity that is plunged in affliction give ear to the words 
of peace, consolation and love, let it accomplish this 
beautiful mission, let it teach the other peoples the 
generous laws of the true possession of the world. 

My work is finished, and now the time has come 
for me to part with it. 

It is going off into this misty autumn night. My 
heart is both glad and sorrowful. 

It is going away from me, henceforth to follow a 
destiny of its own that will no longer depend only 
upon my love. 

I shall turn to other duties, I shall assume other 
cares. A voice tells me that they will always be the 


same duties, the same cares, and that there is no 
longer but one great task for men, one single task 
with a hundred radiant aspects. 

It is late. The night is drawing to a close ; it is 
calm and yet penetrated with a vast, subdued mur- 
mur of joy. They say it is one of the last nights of 
the war. 

I hear about me the panting breath of the wounded. 
There are several hundred of them ; they are sleeping 
or longing for sleep and rest. Their burning breath 
is like a lamentation. Many of them will never see 
the peace they have so dearly bought. They are 
perhaps the wounded of the last battle, the last vic- 
tims, the last martyrs. 

Over the whole face of the world souls are suffer- 
ing with them, for them, souls which the angel of 
death laboring here this night will not deliver. 

My work is finished. It begins to withdraw from 
me. If it can bring any consolation to a single one 
of these suffering souls, let me believe that it has ful- 
filled its destiny. 


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